SECOND SHIP FOR CUBA CRUISES?

After a second highly successful season offering cruises on the chartered Celestyal Cristal, it appears that the Canadian owned Cuba Cruises might be in the market for a second ship to run weekly winter cruises around Cuba’s highlights.

Marketed mainly to Canadian and European passengers, the two seasons aboard Cristal have been hugely successful, anticipating the presumed imminent opening of the fabled island to mass market tourism after many years out in the wilderness. There can hardly be a cruise line executive anywhere that is not salivating over the prospect of sailing to the Cuban highlights. Passengers want it, marketing men too and now, so it seems, the American and Cuban authorities do as well.

This is all well and good but, as alluded to in a previous blog, the infrastructure of such harbours as Havana remains firmly stuck in a 1950’s time warp. Ships bigger than 50,000 tons are a no- no on the docking front, and it will be many years before this logistical impasse can be properly overcome in terms of passengers convenience.

Here is the one example where mega ships are at a definite disadvantage in terms of what they can do, and where they can go. Having spent several years denuding their fleets of smaller, older tonnage, all of the big players in the cruise industry will find themselves at a tactical disadvantage for some time to come.

However, Cuba Cruises has no such problem. With record figures being carried on the 24,000 ton Cristal, the line is now apparently actively considering chartering a second ship for the lucrative winter season. And, unsurprisingly, their choice looks likely to fall on Celestyal Cruises, their current partner of choice.

Celestyal is uniquely posied to take advantage of this stroke of good fortune. From October through till March, most of it’s vessels are laid up in Piraeus over the winter. The stormy seas make the popular, three and four night Aegean cruises that they offer pretty much impractical over the winter months.

So, what ship might go out to bolster Cuba?

First option is the flagship, the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia. Originally built as the Song Of America for Royal Caribbean, a Cuba deployment would mark a welcome winter return to the kind of Caribbean cruises that this spacious, airy ship was built for. In particular, her vast amount of outdoor deck space is truly impressive.

However, I think that Cuba Cruises will go with her newer, more inimtate fleet mate, the 2001 built Celestyal Odyssey. At around 28,000 tons, this ship is more compatible with the Cristal in terms of size. She is also far more modern in terms of layout than the 1982 built Olympia.

Like her, the Celestyal Odyssey will sail on the lucrative, three and four day cruises out of Piraeus during the summer and autumn of 2015. In fact, this season will be her first with the company.

Rather than going into lay up over the winter, she could well cross the Atlantic to join the Cristal in Cuban waters over the peak Caribbean season. This would result in a welcome stream of guaranteed revenue for Celes

Sunrise on a second Cuban sun dream?

Sunrise on a second Cuban sun dream?

tyal over the traditionally barren winter months. Potentially, this is a win-win move for both sides.

Exciting times for all concerned if this turns out to be the case. As always, stay tuned.

 

SHORT CRUISES? GREECE IS THE WORD….

If you’ve always hankered to try a cruise, but don’t want to invest a lot of time or money, then a short but sweet, three or four day run around some of the Greek Islands might be an option worth looking at. Beginning next month, three night cruises sail from Athens on a Friday, with a four night option available each Monday through to November.

These voyages are offered on Celestyal Cruises, very much the Greek specialists, on the Celestyal Olympia, a 38,000 ton veteran that many might remember as the elegant, former Song Of America. She’s a comfortable, commodious ship, capable of carrying around 1600 passengers in a wide range of inside and outside cabins. Throw in authentic, Greek accented cuisine and entertainment, and you’ve got the perfect base for a fun filled few days, whichever break you choose to take.

Comfortable and welcoming rather than glittery and plush, the Celestyal Olympia is perfect for these short, destination oriented cruises. In just a few days, you’ll get snapshots of the highlights and lifestyle in places as diverse as Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Rhodes and Patmos. In point of fact, you can see more of the world on one of these short, stylish jaunts than many people actually do in a lifetime.

If you’re so inclined, add on a few days pre or post cruise in addictive, exhilarating Athens, one of the greatest cities in the world, and the cornerstone of modern democracy. That makes for a brilliant week in total if you choose this option, and a fantastic collection of memories as well. Did I mention the suntan?

Some brief, glorious glimpses of what you might do on such a cruise? Imagine sunset Margaritas overlooking the Aegean in marvellous, highly styled Mykonos, or staring in awed amazement at the petrified remains of once magnificent Ephesus, from Kusadasi. Stroll through the cafe thronged, winding streets and alleys in the staggering medieval theme park that is Rhodes, or simply while away a languid hour or two at a waterfront taverna in Patmos, with a side order of succulent souvlaki and a glass of chilled retsina. For sure, this is not your ordinary weekend away.

Add in the very real benefit of packing and unpacking only once as a whole host of historical, hedonistic hot spots come to you one after another, and you have the stuff of dreams. Value wise, these trips are very hard to beat. Short on time but high on style, one of these short trips will raise the bar massively for your typical weekend break.

And, come June, Celestyal cruises will be adding a second ship, in the trim form of the lovely Celes

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

tyal Odyssey. This 28,000 ton ship- one part floating hotel, one part floating explorer- will also offer the same, three and four night cruises as her slighly larger sister. And, if you’re really in the market for some serious fun, it is perfectly possible to sail on both ships one after another, just by crossing the pier at the end of the first cruise.

A more fulfilling and exhilarating short break would be very difficult to find, especially with so much included in the price. for 2015, Greece is most definitely the word.

CASUALTIES: SCHETTINO AND FUNCHAL

This week brought an endgame of sorts to a duo of needless, long drawn out, totally depressing events in the maritime community. And, worse still, one of these resulted in the irreplacable loss of thirty two innocent people. Both are salient events and, hopefuly, neither will bear repetition.

Firstly, an Italian court finally got round to sentencing the hapless Francesco Schettinio to sixteen years in jail for the catastrophic capsizing of the Costa Concordia in 2012, with the loss of thirty two lives. The sinking of the huge, state of the art cruise ship rocked the entire industry to its very foundations.

I’m not getting into assumptions about the length or suitability- or not- of the sentenece. I am not in possession of all the facts, and simply not in a position to make an emotionless, analytical judgement on said facts.

But what I do know is this; having driven his ship dangerously close inshore like some adolescent yuppie, showing off his brand new Maserati to his friends, Schettino wrecked his ship. Far worse, he then abandoned the hapless thousands entrusted to his care and concern, and fled the scene. This action brought on him the immediate ire and contempt of his opposite numbers of the Italian coast guard. Left to organise a spur of the moment rescue mission in the middle of the night, in freezing cold conditions, their courage, ingenuity and devotion to duty stands as a stark, undeniable contrast to the actions of a man who, once confronted with the enormity of his handiwork, cloaked himself in head to toe denial.

Of course, this availed him little. And, with the lengthy appeals process yet to come, we could be up to the centenary of the disaster before the hapless Schettino himself is steered into a jail cell.

But the man is walking wreckage; his career and future prospects are as bright as that of the ship he destroyed. And, while my sympathies remain totally with the victims of this ghastly tragedy, it is impossible for me not to feel a shred of sympathy for the man himself, while retaining absolute abhorrence at his performance as a so-called captain. Enough said.

Casualty number two appears to be the lovely, beautifuly restored MV Funchal, whose entire summer porgramme of chartered cruises was cancelled this week. This leaves the ship- and, by proxy, owners Portuscale Cruises- effectively shackled to a Lisbon pier for the duration of the year.

While the restoration of this 1961 built classic liner was a thing of beauty to behold, the attempt to charter out Funchal and her fleet mate, Porto, has been a disaster. Third in fleet, Lisboa remains half upgraded in Lisbon, and reportedly up for sale. Only the ongoing, successful charter of the veteran Azores to Cruise And Maritime Voyages seems to be keeping the Portuguese operator on life support. But for how much longer?

Words such as ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ are academic at the moment. Perhaps Portuscale should have concentrated on marketing and sailing the ships themselves, instead of placing them at the beck and call of a conga line of largely whimsical and capricious charterers.

But, whatever, the company has not been good at engaging and getting across the appeal of these unique, soulful quartet of ships. Despite being two years old, only in the last few months has the line opened a Twitter account, for instance. E-mails to their Portuguese offices have just gone unanaswered in the past- and I’m speaking from personakl experience here.

I think it is these two factors that have largely led to the present situation. Is it too late? I hope not. But a radically different course plainly needs to be set.

Otherwise, we are likely to lose one of the most beautifully original and appealing passenger ships still available to travel on today. Make no mistake; the loss of Funchal would be an act of vandalism on a par with taking a scalpel to the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Let us all hope and pray that it does not come to that.

As ever, stay tuned.

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

‘ALLO ‘ALLO! MIMI JOINS THE MARCO POLO……

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

“Listen very carefully; I shall say this only once……”

Pint sized pocket firework and heroine of the ray-zis-tance, Mimi La Bonq, will be joining Cruise And Maritime’s venerable Marco Polo on a special, six night Great European Cities and Rivers Cruise, sailing from Tilbury on October the 24th.

The cruise is one of a number of special voyages lined up to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Marco Polo, and is sure to be very popular.

In addition to being able to say ‘Gid Moaning’ to Mimi- real name Sue Hodge- you will also find on board both Boycey and his lovely wife Marlene, the Rhett and Scarlett of the hugely popular sitcom, Only Fools And Horses.

This cruise has a great itinerary in itself, calling at both Amsterdam and Antwerp, before making overnight stays in Rouen and Honfleur. This allows passengers to dine ashore in the evening if they wish, or perhaps to sample some of the local nightlife.

Although it is unlikely that they will find Mimi returning to her old profession of waitressing in the cafes of the French towns, it would be quite in character for the spiky blonde force of nature to cook up some intriguing adventures all by herself.

Famed for spending many years serving ‘under’ Rene Artois, ‘ero of the ray-zis-tance and late proprietor of the Café Rene in Nouvignon in the popular, long running BBC sitcom, Mimi became one of the heroines of the epic struggle against the ‘Cherman’ occupiers. In this role, she appeared as everything from a hunch backed monster in a haunted castle to a flying nun, a habit she never quite got over.

However, Cruise And Maritime have been able to provide assurances regarding certain other related characters…..

Lovers of a traditional Gin and Tonic tipple might be rather relieved to hear that Madame Fanny La Fan, the one time toast of the Follies Bergeres, will not be roused from her bed to join the cruise and potentially empty the ship’s entire supply of gin over her breakfast corn flakes each morning.

And, her lovely daughter- Madame Edith- will, alas, not be able to entertain passengers on board the Marco Polo with her various unique and wildly eclectic vocal stylings.

On the other hand, a report that General Von Klinkerhoffen will be boarding the Marco Polo at Honfleur to make a personal tour of inspection has yet to be denied.

And, should anyone feel the need for some in depth, local sightseeing, it is possible that Lieutenant Gruber could just take you for a spin in his little tank.

OASIS 4- GOING WHERE, EXACTLY?

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

As attention here in the UK focuses on two ship launches next month- P&O’s Britannia in Southampton on March 10th, and the Tilbury inauguration of Cruise and Maritimes’ Magellan at Tilbury on the 12th, STX shipyard in France has quietly begin cutting the steel for the fourth of the gigantic, 220,000 ton Oasis class shps yesterday over at Saint Nazaire.

To put her in some kind of context, this monster ship alone is more than twice the size of the combined total tonnage of the four ship Cruise and Maritime fleet. She rounds off- for now at least- the most physically spectacular quartet of passenger carrying vessels ever built. But the big question is; where will she go?

With her already complete pair of siblings sailing the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale- and Allure Of The Seas making her summer European debut this year- you have to wonder if there is a winter Caribbean market for even another one of these gigantic vessels, let alone the pair that are now officially underway.

Each week, Oasis and Allure both disembark  6,500 passengers, before embarking the same number again- an extraordinary through footfall of 26,000 passengers through the Florida port for these two ships alone. And, while no one can doubt that this is an extraordinary logistical feat- indeed, an unparalleled one- it has to be asked if one or two more such monsters could be viable in the serially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise trade.

So, where would you send one or both of these ships- each of them the size of a small city- to fill them? Obviously, Royal Caribbean has long since done the numbers, and has a plan that works for them. But, as we are in the dark regarding the itineraries for these ships, we’ll have to indulge in a little speculation.

It is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, of this extraordinary quartet could go straight to China, for cruising in the Far East. Like the rival Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean fully recognises the vast potential of the Chinese market. In point of fact, I’d put money on one- or perhaps even both- of these new ships being China bound soon after completion.

I would also expect that we will now see an annual European cruise season each year for one of these ships, primarily in the Western Mediterranean. I expect the Allure Of The Seas will be hugely popular in 2015 as she gears up for her first ever season of seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises out of Barcelona. That being a given, it would be pretty unwise for Royal Caribbean not to repeat the experience on a yearly basis, though whether the line will keep a ship on this scale on year round European cruises might yet be a bridge too far.

Interesting times in the mega ship market, for sure. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

GERMAN LINERS IN WORLD WAR TWO; A DOOMED BROOD

World War Two was nothing less than a second sunset for the German merchant marine

World War Two was nothing less than a second sunset for the German merchant marine

Just as in the previous war, the conflict of 1939 through 1945 would be incredibly hard on the German merchant marine. Rebuilt at almost superhuman cost in the doldrum years of the Weimar Republic, it was to become the tool of a totally nihilistic regime that neither valued it, nor really knew how to use it. What followed was depressingly predictable.

“On land I am a hero; at sea I am a coward.”

This untypical bit of critical self analysis from the mouth of Adolf Hitler gave proof of where his priorities- and zone of malign expertise- really rested. Throughout the war, the German Navy and it’s civilian counterpart would remain very much the beggar at the feast as far as materials and priorities for the German armed services were concerned.

Of the two great pre war, North German Lloyd speed champions, the Europa was safely in Germany, but the Bremen was in New York, with only hours to escape before the formal declaration of war. Unwilling to see the ship interned just like her Great War predecessors, her crew sailed her out of New York without passengers, but with her decks rigged with explosives. Her crew gave a collective Hitler salute to the Statue Of Liberty as she sailed past it,

Outside territorial waters, a Royal Navy cruiser lay in wait for the Bremen, but the big liner confounded it, with her crew painting her grey as she made a headlong dash for the totally implausible port of Murmansk, in Russia.

In December, after three months as a ‘guest’ of Hitler’s temporary allies, the Bremen took advantage of darkness and fog to sneak down the coast of Norway on her way home. A British submarine actually sighted her, but was forced to dive by a German patrol aircraft. To the relief of her crew, the Bremen somehow made it home in one piece.

Painted in zig zag camouflage for the scheduled Operation Sealion, the planned invasion of Great Britain, the Bremen was left idle when that plan was aborted. In June of 1941, a disgruntled member of her skeleton crew set fire to the mammoth liner. Somehow, the 50,000 ton Bremen burned down to the waterline, in circumstances that have never been fully explained. Her gutted corpse was ripped apart after the war.

In December of 1939, the 32,000 ton, 1924 built Columbus, the third ship in the same line’s service to America, was intercepted off Cape Hatteras by a Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Hyperion. At the outbreak of war, the Columbus had headed for Cuba, where her cruise passengers were forcibly disembarked. Then, with her decks rigged with explosives just like the Bremen, she also attempted to run for home.

Her position was betrayed to the Royal Navy by a neutral American warship. Unable to outrun her heavily armed foe, the Columbus was scuttled by her crew. She was the first major liner casualty of the war on the Axis side. Events would prove that she would not be the last.

By January 1945, Germany had instituted Operation Hannibal, the evacuation by sea of as many civilians and soldiers as possible from East Prussia back to the interiors of the terminally contracting Reich. The approaching Red Army was unstoppable, and about to wreak a hellish vengeance for German atrocities committed across Russia itself.

On January 30th, the 28,000 ton Wilhelm Gustloff, a former ‘Strength Through Joy’ cruise ship built especially to cater to German workers and their families in peacetime, staggered out of the port of Gotenhafen, carrying anything up to an estimated ten thousand fear fuelled refugees and soldiers. The exact number was never recorded in the desperate haste of those times.

Emerging into the teeth of a howling gale, the wallowing liner became detached from her sole escorting warship. Just hours later, the Wilhelm Gustloff blundered into the cross hairs of a Russian periscope.

A trio of torpedoes from the Russian submarine S-!3 slammed into the liner. In little under an hour, amid scenes of indescribable horror, she capsized to port and sagged under the freezing Baltic waters. Just over 1300 survivors were plucked from the ice strewn seas, making for a never to be correctly ascertained death toll anywhere from six to nine thousand souls. To this day, the loss of the Wilhelm Gustloff remains the worst maritime disaster in history.

But in some ways, the sinking of the Cap Arcona on May 5th was even worse.

Hitler was already five days dead, but the war was not yet officially over, when RAF Typhoon fighter bombers discovered the three stack, pre war pride of the Hamburg-South America Line at anchor in the Baltic port of Neustadt, They promptly proceeded to fire rockets into the big liner, turning her into a huge, floating fireball,

Unknown to the British pilots, the Cap Arcona was actually loaded with over five thousand former concentration camp inmates, displaced from camps already overrun by the Allied advance. Within sight and sound of safety, most of these poor, emaciated souls would become unintended victims of the last great sea tragedy of the war. The bodies were still being washed up ashore for months afterwards.

This list, while depressing, is sadly by no means exhaustive.

NAMING OCEAN LINERS- NOT JUST A ROYAL PREROGATIVE

Belfast was the scene of many famous launches, including Olympic, Titanic and Canberra

Belfast was the scene of many famous launches, including Olympic, Titanic and Canberra

In British maritime circles, the current buzz is that the new P&O flagship, Britannia, will be named by the Queen at a special ceremony in Southampton on March 10th, though Buckingham Palace has yet to officially confirm this.

As noted in a previous blog, it has been customary ever since the 1930’s for the premier passenger liners and cruise ships of major British companies to have some kind of royal sanction, be that in the form of an actual, physical launch, or the act of some royal patron acting as godmother. We saw it most recently in 2013, when the Duchess of Cambridge acted in that role for Princess Cruises’ new Royal Princess.

So in the UK, monarchy and majesty at sea have always coexisted. But how have other nations with different systems of government handled such hugely ceremonial events in the past? In this context, it is vital to remember that the construction of the great ocean liners- especially in the 1930’s- were huge statements of national intent, destined to glean as much publicity on the world stage as possible. Different lines went about it in different ways.

In May 1912, the Hamburg America line prepared to launch the Imperator, the largest ocean liner in the world. It was just six weeks since the sinking of the Titanic. Festooned with extra lifeboats at the last moment and named for the Emperor, the bellicose, unstable Kaiser Wilhelm II, she was launched by none other than her sponsor himself.

Two years later, when the third and last of the Imperator class- destined to be named Bismarck- was ready for launching, the deed was supposed to be done by Otto Von Bismarck’s grand daughter. Her first swing of the bottle somehow managed to avoid hitting the biggest single steel structure on the planet. The returning bottle was caught by the Kaiser himself, who then managed to smash it against the prow with the same simple minded brutality with which his armies would help smash up much of Europe just six weeks later.

As for the Titanic herself, her launch at Belfast on May 31st, 1911 was the usual, under stated affair that was normal practice for the White Star Line. So there was no famous, titled patron in a huge, plumed hat, No champagne. In the opinion of the owners, the ship was deemed to be so spectacular and magnificent that no amount of pre release frippery and pretension could possibly do her true justice,

But the French, of course, could always be relied upon to do it with great panache, and more than just a little tongue in cheek subterfuge. When the Normandie was launched in front of a crowd of 250,000 people in October of 1932, the ship was first blessed on the slipway by the local bishop. His Eminence was ‘reassured’ by the owners that they had not committed the ‘sin of pride’ in building the most beautiful, blatantly ambitious vessel ever constructed.

With this helpful reassurance, Monsieur le Cardinal happily blessed the ship. Then, Madame Lebrun, wife of the living president, smashed a spectacularly huge bottle of champagne against  the bow. As  the great ship slid down the ways, she called out ‘I baptise three Normandie’  Then madame proceeded to blow a kiss to the Normandie as she lunged into the Loire, throwing up a spectacular tidal wave that left a whole conga line of sodden, top hatted dignitaries glowering at her..

Not exactly something that you could imagine any of the royal family doing, mind you. Plus ca change.

“I NAME THIS SHIP….” BRITISH ROYALTY AND CEREMONIAL LAUNCHES OVER THE YEARS

A Queen's eye view. The huge flank of QM2

A Queen’s eye view. The huge flank of QM2

With the media full of rumours that Queen Elizabeth II will launch the new P&O Cruises flagship, Britannia, this coming March, now seems as good a time as any to look back at some famous royal naming ceremonies of the past. Inevitably, most- but not all-of these are associated with Cunard. What might surprise many is that the first of these did not occur until as recently as September of 1934.

On that famous occasion, the ageing Queen Mary lent her name and prestige to a shop that become immortal. Hull no. 534 thundered down the slipways of the John Brown yard at Clydebank, to the cheers of over 200,000 rain sodden spectators. Thus began a tradition that remains- albeit in a different form- to this very day.

In those days, and for many years afterwards, a ship launch was exactly that; a physical progression of a newly christened hull from slipway to river. There would be the naming by a grand- hopefully royal- personality, and then the actual moment when the champagne bottle (or sparkling Australian wine in the case of the Queen Mary) was smashed against the prow. Immortalised in grainy black and white movietone reels. these still have an awesome retrospective splendour to this day.

Four years later, the young Queen Elizabeth did the honours for the second great new Cunarder from the same vantage point, beginning an intimate association with the RMS Queen Elizabeth that would last until that fabled ships’ eventual retirement a full three decades later. Present with her on the podium that day was the young Princess Elizabeth, whose own relationship with the ocean liner and cruise industry continues unbroken to this day.

In the post war world, it was this same young Princess Elizabeth that did the honours for the Caronia, the legendary ‘Green Goddess’ launched on the Clyde in October of 1947. But the future Queen was not solely to be associated with the great Cunarders.

In 1953, as Queen, she did the official duties for the launching of the Southern Cross over at the Harland and Wollf shipyard in Belfast. This new ship was revolutionary more in terms of design, rather than size. With a new, engines aft propulsion system, the new Shaw, Savill and Albion liner would be the trend setter copied by such future, ocean going aristocrats as the Rotterdam and Canberra.

In June of 1955, the Queen went over to the Fairfield yard at Govan, near Glasgow, to give her blessing to the Empress Of Britain, the new Canadian Pacific liner, built specifically for the Liverpool to Montreal run. This era marked the absolute high point of ocean liner evolution. It would be a dozen years before the monarch would again name a passenger vessel. But, when she did, it would begin an almost symbiotic relationship between the two.

“I name this ship Queen Elizabeth the Second…..”

On 20th September, 1967, the Queen returned to Clydebank to launch the successor to the two previous Queens. Aptly, she cut the cord holding the launch bottle with the same pair of scissors used on her two great predecessors. And, as the trim, magnificent hull began her stately progress down the ways, she was heard to exclaim; “Oh, look at her; she’s beautiful!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

After that landmark liner launch, the physical protocol of ship christenings evolved in line with new building processes. By the time that the Queen christened the new P&O Oriana in Southampton in 1995, the champagne bottle was deftly smashed against the side of a fully completed vessel, docked alongside in her future home port. From here on in, all major ship launches would follow a similar pattern.

Her Majesty would perform two similar honours for Cunard; first for the glorious new Queen Mary 2 in January 2004, and for a second, superb new Queen Elizabeth as recently as October, 2011. If the sovereign does, as expected, christen the new Britannia this coming March, it will be simply the latest in a long line of such gilded ceremonial events. But, while the Queen is the absolute gold standard for launching an ocean liner, she is by no means the only member of the family to engage in the time honoured process of naming such great ships.

Many have forgotten now that the late Diana, Princess of Wales, christened the 45,000 ton Royal Princess, again in Southampton, back in 1984. Not to be outdone, it was her sister in law, Princess Anne, that performed the same duty for the Aurora, the great new P&O cruise ship in 2000.

And, in 2007, the new Queen Victoria, the first ship ever to bear the name, was christened in Southampton by Camilla Parker Bowles, in her official capacity as Duchess of Cornwall.

Whatever your view of royalty, it seems completely right that these great, prestigious ships down through the years should be christened by such notable figures. For our current Queen, her interest and continued patronage of the ships she has named  is both very personal and, in the case of QE2 in particular, quite profound.

Britannia will almost certainly be next. It is to be hoped that she will not be the last.

NEW VISTAS FOR CARNIVAL IN 2016

Carnival is launching the new Carnival Vista in 2016

Carnival is launching the new Carnival Vista in 2016

The new Carnival Vista will make her maiden American landfall on November 3rd 2016, at the end of a thirteen day voyage from Europe. Leaving Barcelona on October 21st- Trafalgar Day in the UK- the new, 141,000 ton ship will call at Ponta Delgada and make an overnight stop in Bermuda before arriving in the Big Apple. Once there, the new ship-currently under construction at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard- will operate a series of round trip cruises to a series of as yet unspecified ports, before deploying to a yet to be announced home port for 2017.

Prior to this, the first of class vessel- the largest ever built for the Carnival fleet- will operate a series of some eighteen Mediterranean cruises after her delivery from the Trieste shipyard on May 1st, before making her October westbound voyage. Ranging in duration from eight to thirteen nights, many will sail round trip from Barcelona, but there will also be some very interesting grand sweeps across the region, sailing between Barcelona and Athens.

Ports on the menu will include several of the ‘greatest hits’ destinations including Rome, Florence and Valetta, but there will also be maiden calls at destinations such as Corfu as well.

In all, there will be six eight day cruises, a score of ten night itineraries, one twelve night cruise, and a pair of thirteen night voyages, including the westbound crossing to New York in October.

The Carnival Vista is a slightly larger version of the hugely successful Carnival Dream trio, but incorporates several new features of her own, including an amazing aerial track that will allow passengers to pedal around the ship, several two room family cabins, and a first-to-Carnival set of lanai cabins opening out onto the main promenade, complete with front ‘gates’ and hammocks out front.

The ship will also incorporate recent proven favourites, such as the Red Frog pub, this one complete with an on board brewery, plus a larger, upper deck Serenity Zone. Recently released interior renderings reveal a ship that follows the more muted, upscale style of the Dream class, rather than the Warhol-esque style so readily identified with the line’s long term chief interior designer, Joe Farcus.

A lot is riding on this new ship. She will be arriving in an American cruise market where recent new designs from rivals Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have been stealing all the plaudits for quite some time. And, with new offerings yet to come from both of those lines as well, the manner in which Carnival Vista is received by the cruising community could well be pivotal to the entire future operation of Carnival as a whole.

These are interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

CRYSTAL SERVES UP WEEK LONG EUROPE CRUISES WITH OVERNIGHT PORT STAYS

Spend quality time ashore in Monte Carlo on an overnight stay with Crystal

Spend quality time ashore in Monte Carlo on an overnight stay with Crystal

Crystal Cruises has announced a series of week long cruise options in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe for 2015, each offering at least one overnight stay in a major port of call.

In what must be seen at least as a partial response to the overnight stays offered by Azamara Club Cruises, both Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony will offer some very welcome opportunities to explore these key cities in depth, as well as the chance to sample some of the shore side night life as an optional extra- a delightful extra incentive in the long summer nights in these waters.

The bulk of these will inevitably be in the Mediterranean, and offered on the 68,000 ton, 1.07o guest Crystal Serenity. These are outlined here. Please note that all of these voyages are of seven nights’ total duration.

Crystal Serenity;

30th August Rome to Venice offers an overnight stay n Venice, as well as in Sorrento, mid cruise. However, bear in mind that the ship will anchor off Sorrento, and will use tenders which are unlikely to run ‘all hours’ of the night. If this option interests you, you’ll need to find out what time the last tender is.

6th September has a Venice to Istanbul run, that offers overnight stays in both of those fabled cities.

13th September has a round trip sailing from Istanbul that offers a first night, overnight stay in the only European city to actually straddle two separate continents.

11th October offers up an Athens to Venice sailing that stays overnight in Venice itself.

18th October is a Venice to Monte Carlo sailing that overnights in Venice on the first night.

6th November features a Monte Carlo to Lisbon sailing that has an overnight in Monte Carlo on day one.

22nd November has a Monte Carlo to Marseille sailing that also overnights in Monte Carlo.

 

Meanwhile, the 50,000 ton, 970 guest Crystal Symphony will be serving up a handful of memorable, week long itineraries in the waters around the Baltic and Russia. As currently listed, these are;

16th August round trip cruise from Copenhagen that overnights in Saint Petersburg.

23rd August Copenhagen to Amsterdam cruises features overnight stays in both Edinburgh and Hamburg.

 

Fares for both ships are all inclusive. Fly cruise fares for the Mediterranean voyages begin at £1,826 per person, and are valid through until March 2nd.

All things considered, all of these voyages are ideal ‘tasters’ for anyone wanting to dip a toe into the highly styled, elegant world of Crystal, or as a very welcome extra ‘top up’ break for regular connoisseurs of the company. As such, they represent extraordinary good value while remaining time sensitive and practical. I expect them to sell briskly.