THE BALCONY BOOM- HAS IT BUST?

Crystal cruises has some of the most generous standard sized balconies afloat

Crystal cruises has some of the most generous standard sized balconies afloat

Cruise ship balconies have been all the rage for the better part of two decades now, but some of the latest ships to enter service have come in for some pointed criticisms in the balcony stakes.

Both the new Norwegian Breakaway and Royal Princess have been slated for cutting back on space on their standard balconies; both do, indeed, look a little on the small side. Photos reveal sitting room to be more than a little tight on both. And the mini suite balconies on the later ship have been slated as positively miniscule.

By contrast, the new Europa 2 of Hapag Lloyd Cruises boasts the largest standard balconies ever seen on any ship; at a whopping seventy five square feet, they are bigger than some of those  turn of the century steerage cabins offered by the same line in the nineteen hundreds.

She is, admittedly a deluxe ship, And yet balconies at sea are not quite as newfangled as you might think.

Italia Line sister ships, Saturnia and Vulcania, had a small suite of upper deck balcony cabins as far back as the 1920’s. These two ships operated on the Italian Line’s ‘sunny southern’ route between Italy and North America. Needless to say, these were attached to only the most very expensive cabins.

Later, in the 1930’s, the record breaking Normandie had a pair of vast, sternward facing terraces attached to her two pre-eminent suites. Ironically, these lacked the one thing essential to all good balcony accommodation; any form of privacy. Anyone walking the aft terraces of the French masterpiece could be party to the platinum chip lounging of the top suite occupants. Interestingly, her great rival, Queen Mary, had none.

Three years after her 1969 debut, Queen Elizabeth 2 had a prefabricated block of penthouses hoisted on board, just aft of her mainmast. These had small balconies, and a big effect on her centre of balance. In the winter of 1986-7, another block was added further aft, extending to just forward of the new funnel.

SS. Norway before the balconies were added around her distinctive funnels

SS. Norway before the balconies were added around her distinctive funnels

Two years later, her great rival, the SS. Norway, had a whole deck and a half of brand new balcony cabins built on her upper decks, around the funnels. And while some purists claimed that the addition ruined her beautiful lines forever, those new decks were instrumental in keeping the ageing former French liner financially afloat for another decade and a half.

Two things emerge from this; balconies are not new, but they are certainly here to stay. It seems doubly ironic that shrinking balcony real estate on seagoing ships is being complemented by increasingly generous balconies on the newest generation of river cruisers.

If this is a new trend in passenger shipping, it will not be a popular one. A balcony at sea should be a space to lounge on, and not merely a ledge to perch on.

BRAZILIAN CRUISES ON THE LOUIS AURA, WINTER 2013-14 (Updated)

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Brazilian company, CVC, has released a series of winter itineraries for the specially chartered Louis Aura, currently sailing in the Greek Islands as the Orient Queen on a three and four night schedule from Piraeus. The deployment to Brazil is the first for Louis, although the ship herself did a season under charter in these waters a few years ago.

The 16,000 ton ship-fondly remembered by many as the pioneering Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line- will offer some sixty-three cruise options, commencing with a two night itinerary on November 28th 2103, and concluding with a final sailing on March 26th, 2014.

Itineraries will run from two to seven days in length, and concentrate mainly on the northern region of Brazil. Departures from Recife and Cabedelo feature ports of call such as Fortaleza, Natal, and the stunningly beautiful group of islands of Fernando de Noronha.

There is no attempt to compete with the series of hectic, seven days sailings usually undertaken by the mega ships. Also, by eschewing the ‘greatest hits’ ports such as Buzios and Rio De Janeiro, the charter company is offering a very different kind of experience to that served up on the mainstream ships.

A key factor here is the small size of the ship, which allows her to access smaller, more off the beaten track itineraries not open to the competition. Another is her maximum capacity of around eight hundred passengers, which should facilitate quicker embarkation and debarkation.

Louis Aura has one main dining room and an alfresco buffet that also has an indoor area, there are five bars, a two level casino, and two outdoor pools. One of these is partially shaded from the elements. None of the cabins have balconies, but even the smallest insides have private facilities. Pack lightly; the dress code is smart casual, and exactly right for these tropical waters.

There is a large show lounge at the forward end of the main deck. Most public rooms run along the length of deck number five, with the Mermaid Restaurant at the stern. This room has a wall of floor to ceiling glass windows that overlooks the ship’s wake.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Louis Aura also has a library, internet centre and small shopping area, as well as an upper deck, Balinese themed spa.

CVC celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2012, and is well known as one of Brazil’s biggest tour providers.

No details of the transatlantic crossings have yet surfaced. It is not yet clear whether Louis Cruises will sell these voyages.

From mainland Europe, TAP Air Portugal operates services to Recife from it’s main hub at Lisbon’s Portela International Airport. The city is also served by a number of mainstream US carriers.

With very grateful thanks to Daniel Capella for his help in linking in to the CVC itineraries.

12/12: Daniel Capella has kindly informed me that these cruises are now being operated by the smaller Orient Queen II, better known to many as the former Spanish cruise ship, Vistamar.

MANHATTAN SUNRISE

One World Trade Centre, Manhattan at dawn....

One World Trade Centre, Manhattan at dawn….

The approach to Manhattan from the open sea is a timeless, spectacular, almost sacred procession from the open ocean into the heart of the greatest city in the world. Even now, it has no equal as a thrilling, emotional tour de force. Truth be told, it has always exerted an amazing, hypnotic pull on generations of sea travellers for well over a century now.

For sure, most modern cruise ships now leave from convenient spots such as Cape Liberty, on the New Jersey side, and Red Hook over in Brooklyn. They have their advantages in terms of facilities and location.

But they do not have the unique, magical lore of that stately progress towards the west side of Manhattan. As dawn breaks, the rising sun glints almost shyly against the fantastic, shimmering forest of glass and steel that is Manhattan proper.

You can see traffic rushing along the length of Twelfth Avenue, looking like random strings of maddened insects. Car horns create cracks in the edifice of the still, silent air as you steal slowly upstream.

The new World Trade Centre is a vast, vaulting colossus that stands guard as you glide past Battery Park. Further on, the elegant, tapering spires of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are timeless tributes to the age of Art Deco, an era that found its finest expression in the same, great ocean liners that used to dock at these same west side piers.

Off to port, the Statue Of Liberty provides an unmistakable welcome, just as she did for literally millions of people in the old days. History is etched into every inch of her tousled, copper green trousseau; on a warm spring day in April 1912, she waited patiently for the Titanic. She is waiting still.

Early morning, Empire State of mind. So timeless and beautiful....

Early morning, Empire State of mind. So timeless and beautiful….

In the early morning light, the water can look like a sea of polished glass. Tugs bumble fussily about around the flanks of your ship as she swings with slow, easy grace into the embrace of the west side piers; the same ones built for the Normandie and the Queen Mary back in the 1930’s. The traffic is louder now; the concrete canyons of midtown Manhattan almost close enough to touch.

Times change, and fads come and go with each new week. But the mere act of sailing into Manhattan is still pure, spine tingling theatre that never fails to move people on some quite deep, intangible level. And, unlike today’s fads and gimmicks, it never gets old.

TITANIC II- SOME ELEVATED CONCERNS- UPDATED

The original Titanic; doomed opulence on the ocean, 1912- style

The original Titanic; doomed opulence on the ocean, 1912- style

As many of you will be aware, the oft delayed, eagerly awaited announcement for the keel laying date of Titanic II will be revealed this month, we have been told. With two thirds of June almost gone, the sense of anticipation has been sharpened to almost knife edge.

Clive Palmer has promised a ship that is around 96 per cent accurate; albeit with a welded hull, inboard lifeboats (and plenty of them) as well as one extra deck. All of this is by now out in the public domain.

But I’ve been thinking more about the interior structure lately. To be precise, the passenger mobility aspect of the ship. Bear with me.

The original Titanic had four lifts. That’s right- four. Of these, three were the exclusive preserve of the 750 first class passengers. The fourth lift was a welcome, novel addition for the benefit of second class. The third class passengers- by far the bulk of the ship’s complement- had no lift access at all.

Given that Palmer has pledged to keep the numbers, class system and structural integrity of the original ship, the modern voyagers aboard Titanic II will be stuck with that same quartet of lifts. And, as Mister Palmer intends for his passengers to spend two days experiencing each of the three classes on each six day crossing, the logistics of moving both them, and of course all their luggage, begin to look like a very badly orchestrated Monty Python sketch. Repeated three times a week, in case you missed the first show.

Of course, the obvious solution seems simple enough; just add more lifts. But that involves cutting lift shafts right through the entire, nine deck structure of the ship. Lift shafts where none ever existed before. Or intended to be either, for that matter.

Any ocean liner- even the biggest- is a trade off as regards space in every section, from cabin size to kitchen square footage. Massive compromise in this respect is as unavoidable as that iceberg back in 1912.

More lifts means plowing wholesale through deck after deck; obliterating original cabins, and cutting through corridors on every deck; perhaps even cutting through public rooms. It certainly means creating vestibules where none ever existed before. That creates backup in terms of passenger flow; it makes the original form and function of many public spaces impractical and, more to the point, downright uncomfortable.

That end result means a TItanic II that will be a butchered, truncated mish mash inside. It makes even the fanciful figure of ’96 per cent accurate’ a joke.

So, Palmer here inherits a true maritime catch-22 situation, albeit one of this own making.  He wants to create a ship that replicates the original of 1912 as faithfully as possible, and sell it to a society that cherishes the modern creature comforts of 2013.

You could, in theory, create a corridor for the third class passengers to use the single, second class lift. But again, that means cutting away at the original interior. And one lift for the use of around 1500 passengers? Really?

And what about disabled access? How will that work in and across all three classes? My guess is not very well at all.

The shape and technology of ship hulls- from freighters to cruise ships- advances and changes to meet the needs of modern demands. Recreating a century old hull design and expecting it to be adapted to modern tastes strikes me as a fanciful, fatuous daydream.

This isn’t 1912. Palmer can either create a working, potentially viable transatlantic tribute that doffs its cap to its heritage, or he can conjure a real, live 1912 theme park that is woefully impractical, verging on farcical. He can’t have both.

And, thus far, there’s actually no real sign of him doing either.

Update: As of today- Thursday, July 4th- there has still been no announcement of any definite launch date for the Titanic II project, despite Clive Palmer’s promise that this would be forthcoming in June.

THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE

Sunset over Bermuda,,,

Sunset over Bermuda,,,

The Bermuda Triangle. Flight 19 disappeared over it. Barry Manilow sang about it. Both were traumatic, inexplicable happenings that seared themselves into a nation’s psyche. Things that are spoken of in hushed tones even today.

It’s a fondly imagined region of freaky atmospheric disturbances, disappearing ships and half seen ghosts, brought to life in the fevered fantasies of book and screenwriters. Since the end of the Second World War, the Bermuda Triangle has grown to become a myth of epic proportions, one almost on a par with Camelot, or even Atlantis.

The waters around Bermuda have always been treacherous. The island is surrounded by many dangerous, shallow reefs, and is ringed by a shark’s mouth full of jagged coral. As far back as the sixteenth century, Shakespeare was writing in The Tempest about ‘the still vex’d Bermoothes’…

I’ll never forget the mixture of amusement and mock concern that danced across the faces of my friends when I told them that I had booked my first ever Bermuda cruise. After a while I lost count of how many times the ‘triangle’ word came to surface like some vengeful Kraaken. It seems that ‘Bermuda’ and ‘Triangle’ are as symbiotic as ‘Barry’ and ‘Copacabana’.

Eight cruises to Bermuda later, and I have still not managed to disappear into the wispy Bermudian ether. I was beginning to wonder if i was doing something wrong, to be honest. And what I very soon discovered was that there are far, far worse places to be lost in than Bermuda, that sunny island full of wonderful, friendly souls.

There's nothing mysterious about Bermuda's beautiful fauna....

There’s nothing mysterious about Bermuda’s beautiful fauna….

For sure, there have certainly been lost evenings in Caffe Cairo on Hamilton’s waterfront, and at the White Horse over in gorgeous St. George’s, when the nights seemed to vanish as completely as Atlantic fog. But none of this really tallies with the fearsome literary ogre that has grown up in these post war years.

In truth, the given geographical edges of what is also known as the Devil’s Triangle hinge on three focal points; Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico. I suppose it could just as easily have been called after either of those other two hinges, but then ‘Miami Triangle’ does not have quite the same ring to it, i guess.

Nor would it be too popular with the cruise lines, i suppose. Because the truth is that every Caribbean cruise that sails from Florida passes through the self same waters linked to the triangle. The total amount of water enclosed in the region between Miami and Puerto Rico alone is at least half a million square miles. The total number of cruise ships that have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle since 1968 is, erm, nil.

That is not to say that certain things do not vanish in this region. On more than two dozen cruises in these waters over the years, I have noticed the sudden and abrupt disappearance of several things over the course of a voyage.

These can include; stress, sobriety, cares and worries, diets and, sometimes, virginity, to name but a few. Common sense and intellect often seem to vanish without trace, and at the strangest times. Good intentions, resolutions, hang ups and inhibitions; all lost somewhere within that fearsome void, and nary a word said about any of them. Spooky.

Typical Bermuda beach

Typical Bermuda beach

And Bermuda itself? Well, most of the cruise ships bound there in the summer sail out of Boston and New York. They sail southwards through the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. Apart from touching land on the island of Bermuda itself, they never enter into the area of the ‘triangle’ at all. A fact that some find oddly disappointing.

So no, your chances of disappearing are something less than nil if you dip your toes in the triangle. Still, the good news is this; we’ll always have Barry.

No. Seriously. Don’t thank me. You’re welcome, Lola.

SEADREAM- IT’S A YACHT, NOT A CRUISE SHIP

It's yachting, not cruising...

It’s yachting, not cruising…

They are, without doubt, the swans of the ocean. At just over 4,400 tons each and with a maximum capacity of 112 guests, served by a hand picked crew of 95, Seadream l and Seadream ll are peerless in the realm of intimate, yacht style voyaging that they offer. There may be imitators out there, but that is all they will ever remain.

But what really marks these ships out as special is an all inclusive policy, married to a smart casual dress code. There’s a marvellous lack of structure on display here; each day is like  your own personal smorgasbord; you can add as much, or as little, to your own menu as the mood suits you.

Intimacy is at the heart of the entire Seadream experience. Whether it’s taking an early morning walk ashore with the head chef to watch him peruse the best lobster in Saint Tropez, or the fabulous, surf and caviar ‘splashes’ off the coast of balmy Jost Van Dyk, the yachts offer up a level of interaction that a larger ship could never dream of.

The Riviera afloat....

The Riviera afloat….

That is not to say that the crew are overly familiar, or overstep the passenger/crew boundaries on any level. Quite the reverse. You determine how involved- or how secluded- you want to be. No-one will question your decisions, and everybody will respect them.

Both yachts are stunningly understated. An upper deck, outdoor bar at the top of the yacht acts as the focal point for Seadream guests, especially at night.

And where else could all passengers be seated for all meals at one time, either indoors or outside? The cuisine on Seadream is simply exquisite; imagine cooked to order lamb chops for an alfresco breakfast, as the yacht ambles into the welcoming waters of Portofino, or maybe Puerto Banus. This really is gourmet standard cuisine, and both yachts offer a deft level of attentive service that complements the food to sublime perfection.

While none of the rooms have balconies, all are outsides, with a generous 185 sq.ft of space. There are a handful of interconnecting suites that are bigger, but even the standards- such an inadequate word- come equipped with amazing, multi jet showers and beautiful cherry wood veneer finishes. The bed linens are truly the stuff of dreams, too.

Watch a Michael Buble concert outside by the pool at night? Sure....

Watch a Michael Buble concert outside by the pool at night? Sure….

More? How about if I told you that you can sleep outside at night, under the stars, but in total privacy? Peachy.

Each yacht has a set of vast, expansive Balinese dream beds on the upper deck. They can be curtained off for privacy. Seadream staff will fetch you a goodnight gift of champagne and, if the mood suits you, they will wake you with fresh orange juice and croissants. Or champagne, if you would prefer that.

There’s a small pool and a perfectly shaded Jacuzzi, plus a sprinkling of sweetly sited, upper deck hammocks if the optional on board water sports carried by the yachts- we’re talking jet skis, sailfish and kayaks here- sounds too much like hard work. Seadream takes relaxation and indulgence, mixes them up in a cocktail shaker, and then serves them up as a perfectly garnished art form. Platinum chip indolence was never quite this much fun.

The atmosphere of fun and frivolity on board is utterly infectious, and quite unlike anything else afloat. Both yachts naturally do well on private charters, and yet each has its own, regular contingent of die hards that returns year in and out. It’s a hard addiction to break.

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening...

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening…

So why try? Especially when the size of both yachts means you can sail into small, perfect little patches of paradise that the big ships have to bypass. Overnight in Monte Carlo? Sure. Or, overnight in Saint Barts? Now we’re talking in the realm of outstanding.

CITY BREAKS CRUISES- LOTS TO LOVE

ImageOne massive area of growth in the last few years has been in the number of short city break cruises that operate primarily from south coast ports such as Southampton and Dover. Hardly surprising, given the huge benefits than can accrue to both company and passenger. Here’s the lowdown on why.

Cruise lines like operating these schedules because they are low on fuel costs, and high on potential shore excursions sales. This is especially so when a ship might dock in, say, Zeebrugge; most people will buy a shore excursion to Bruges, rather than simply doing the short train ride on their own. Many people prefer the convenience of having everything pre packaged, and the cruise lines are quite happy to comply.

ImageItineraries can range from between two and five days, and include everything from the smaller, more homely styled ships of Fred. Olsen and Cruise and Maritime, to the gargantuan Cunard Flagship, Queen Mary 2. Once solely the preserve of summer holiday weekends, the odds are now that you can find just such a festive jaunt at any time of the year.

The big ships of P&O and Cunard are ideal if you consider the ship to be the destination, and all you really need is some shopping time ashore, while enjoying some serious spa pampering time for the rest of the voyage. This alone is enough for many people, and it is also an ideal way to get the feel of a ship if you’re considering a longer break. Plus, you can do it without breaking the bank.

The downside of these big ships is, as always, the places where they cannot go. Their size usually limits them to big industrial ports, such as Le Havre, Zeebrugge and the likes. Cunard, for instance, use Rotterdam as an entry port for visitors to Amsterdam. And while the two cities are, admittedly, only an hour apart, that’s two hours of your time gone on what  is obviously a trip short on time.

The smaller ships can slip neatly into the real gems such as Honfleur, a pastel pretty fishing port that is worth a day of anybody’s life. So, too, Is Antwerp, a glorious Gothic theme park devoted solely to Belgium’s ‘Holy Trinity’ of waffles, chocolate and beer. Some of the smaller ships stay overnight in one of these ports, giving you the opportunity to dine and drink ashore for the evening.

Regardless of its size, your ship offers you the safety, security and comfort of a very good hotel, with an inclusivity and at a price point that no land based hotel could possibly even begin to approach. Whoever you choose to sail with, the value is obvious.

There is one port of call that I would caution you about: Guernsey. And that is not because there is anything wrong with the place- it’s chocolate box pretty. It’s all about access. Or rather, lack of it.

Guernsey sits off the coast of France, and has no docking facilities for even the smallest ships. All landings are by tender boat from your ship.

ImageThe problem is that if the English Channel is in the least bit stroppy, then no sensible captain is going to put tenders in the water. Yes, the means you’re not going ashore, owing to adverse weather. And in the English Channel, ‘adverse’ is usually the rule rather than the exception. On my six cruises thus far slated to call at Guernsey, I have managed to get ashore twice. And all of these were in mid summer.

Should this be a deal breaker? That’s down to you, and how much you really wanted to see what is truthfully a very pretty little island.

That said, these great little escapes are mushrooming in popularity, and I expect the trend to continue. Fred. Olsen in particular now run some nice December ‘Christmas Market’ mini cruises that include an overnight stay in fabled, medieval Rouen. There can be few more enchanting locations to spend a few hours wandering the cobbled streets as you watch the snow fall.

Especially so when you remember that your floating hotel is not far away, it will be warm and welcoming and- best of all- someone will always have the kettle on. Happy wanderings!

A FEW HOURS IN AMSTERDAM?

ImageIf you’re visiting on a cruise or just transiting through Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, and have a few hours to kill, it can be pretty difficult knowing how best to maximise that time. Truth be told, this amazing old merchant’s city- once the focal point of a vast colonial empire that stretched out to the Far East- is so chock full of attractions and diversions that even a week would barely allow you to scratch the surface. So, we’d better get cracking….

If culture is your thing, then the museums in Amsterdam are second to none. The recently re-opened Stedilijk is more contemporary in terms of displays. It could easily absorb your attention during the entire stay. So, too, could the legendary Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh, two overblown confections of amazing art work from the likes of Van Gogh, Vermeer and, of course, Rembrandt.

On a far more sobering and contemporary note, you might check out the haunting, claustrophobic bolt hole that is the Anne Frank House. The young Anne was only thirteen when she began writing her famous diary, in 1942. Of the extended Frank family, only her father would survive their subsequent betrayal and brutal internment. It’s a sobering, yet ultimately quite life affirming, experience.

ImageCulture is all well and fine, but to gain a real perspective on this beautiful city, try taking a canal cruise in Amsterdam. The city is locked and welded together by a serpentine network of canals that are actually the very life blood of the city.

You’ll beetle at a sedate pace past a landscape of looming brownstone houses, flanked by lanes of elegant plane trees. Cyclists on both banks try to keep up with your boat as it ghosts under a succession of vaulting bridges.Old barges, many of them long since converted into floating homes, sit alongside the river banks,

If it’s an evening cruise, street lights shimmering on the water enhance the vibe no end. On some cruises, you can savour the delicious local Dutch herring, washed down with a bottle of the refreshing, local Amstel beer. Some even feature live, languid jazz and blues on board. And, because the boats are enclosed, it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours, regardless of the weather.

Amsterdam is a relatively easy city to walk; it’s pretty flat and even. Enjoy cafe life in Dam Square with a beer and some of the delicious local bitterballs, as you watch the office crowds rushing home at the end of the day. The local trams run the whole length of the city; they look like nothing so much as giant, yellow mechanical snails that swoosh silently past umbrella flanked bars and restaurants that crouch along the sidewalks.

ImageFor a matchless view out over the old copper spires and steeples of Amsterdam, you can do a lot worse than to check out the rooftop terrace of the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. The cappuccinos are first rate, but the view out over the city on a warm summer night is just sublime, and a definitely recommended highlight.

The hotel also has the advantage of being very near to the cruise terminal, and it’s also quite close to Dam Station, if you are getting the train back out to Schipol Airport. For those that wonder, journey time from the city centre out to the airport is around eighteen minutes, and up to five trains an hour run in either direction during peak hours. There are also hourly trains that run right through the night.

So, there’s a slice of Amsterdam for you. Compact, compelling and totally attitude free, it remains one of the most enduring and endearing of all the great cities of Europe. Enjoy.

TRIUMPH RETURNS TO SERVICE

Carnival Triumph returns to service today

Carnival Triumph returns to service today

Amid all the ballyhoo and euphoria of today’s inauguration of the brand new Royal Princess at Southampton, the return to service today of the Carnival Triumph will probably go relatively unremarked upon.

Yet this was the self same ship that last generated Carnival corp it’s last tsunami of press and media attention, when the 102,000 ton ship drifted without motive power for several days earlier this year, following a fire on board. More than four thousand passengers and crew were stranded aboard the Carnival Triumph for several days, and a massive media feeding frenzy ensued.

The fallout from the accident was enormous; Carnival took a huge public and financial hit as a result, and some serious rethinking ensued at Coral Gables. One of the far reaching results of that thinking was last week’s return of former Carnival CEO, Bob Dickinson, in an advisory role. Long acknowledged as a savvy operator and a steady pair of hands, his presence should help to realign the company towards the core concepts that made it the front runner in mainstream cruising.

And today, the Carnival Triumph herself returns to service, embarking on the first of a series of four and five night cruises from Galveston, Texas, to some of the highlights of the western Caribbean. Four day itineraries feature a call at Cozumel, while the five day voyages showcase both Cozumel and Progreso, on the Yucatan.

The ship comes back to service with a whole new raft of fire detection and suppression systems installed. In addition, Carnival has installed a backup emergency generator to ensure that such vital functions as light, sanitation and heating systems can continue to operate in the event of an engine room failure,

Carnival took the opportunity to upgrade the Triumph with the full range of Carnival 2.0 Fun Ship enhancements during her enforced absence from service. The work was carried out at a dockyard in Freeport, Bahamas.

For instance, all cabins now have new beds and bedding, right throughout the ship. A vast amount of new carpeting has been fitted throughout all the main public areas. The line also took the opportunity to add a swathe of new dining and drinking venues.

These include the free for all Guy’s Burger Joint, featuring prime quality cuts of beef; the Cucina del Capitano themed Italian family restaurant, and the Punchliner’s Comedy Club. There is also a branch of the popular Red Frog Bar, with its own, specially brewed ‘Thirsty Frog’ beer, as well as the Blue iguana Mexican Cantina. The popular Alchemy Bar and EA Sports Club will also feature aboard the revitalised Triumph.

Serenity Deck, Carnival style

Serenity Deck, Carnival style

These upgrades go hand in hand with a range of new themed shows that are being rolled out right across the entire Carnival fleet. The revamped Carnival Triumph should prove to be a spectacular floating playground for these short cruises, scheduled to run right through 2014.

Sister ship Carnival Victory will receive a similar, comprehensive series of upgrades next year, as Funship 2.0 is rolled out across the fleet. Interestingly, the next scheduled upgrade is for the Fantasy class  Carnival Imagination in September.

CLASSICS TO INFINITY…. AND BEYOND

ImageIn the world of modern cruising, the miraculous salvation of the former Classic International Cruises fleet must rank as the most staggering comeback since Lazarus. OK, well at least since Take That.

When the banks foreclosed on the fleet of classic liners so lovingly maintained by the late, great George Potamianos, scrapyard owners everywhere opened their cheque books and sharpened their knives. And who could really blame them for scenting blood?

ImageHere was what had been a modern cruise accountant’s nightmare. A fleet of low density ships, floating anachronisms that were incredibly expensive to sail and maintain. Labour intensive, with only a handful of balcony cabins across the five ships. A complete lack of modern, time killing attractions and, above all, their sheer age working relentlessly against them. Though I remained outwardly optimistic, in my heart I had also written those lovely, fondly remembered ships off.

I have never been so glad to be proven wrong.

In a move that stunned and surprised everyone, four of the five ships have been bought from the banks by Doctor Rui Alegre, a Portuguese business man. He immediately reinstated the stalled revitalisation of the handsome, 1961 built Funchal. Now, after several years of stop-start work, the ship is scheduled to start sailing again under charter this September. This was originally thought to be in Northern Europe, though another source has the ship going to the Mediterranean.

ImageBaby of the fleet, the 6,000 ton Arion has now been renamed as the Porto. She now sports a smart black hull, and a black and yellow funnel bearing the logo of the newly named Portuscale Cruises. At the time of writing, she is undergoing final refurbishment in Lisbon.

Nearby, the classic, 15,000 ton Princess Danae is being refurbished, and has been renamed the Lisboa, in honour of the Portuguese capital.

Athena, the former Stockholm, is already back at sea, operating charter cruises in the Black Sea for a Russian firm, under her new name, Azores.

It is expected that all the ships will be up and running by 2014, though whether some or all go out on charter is as yet unclear. Portuscale is being quite tight lipped. Indeed, silent.

Also encouraging is the revival of the Classic International Cruises brand itself, with the Potamianos brothers-sons of the original owner- having completed the repurchase of the 15,000 ton Princess Daphne, currently laid up in Crete. Again, details are thin on the ground, but it seems that the brothers have gone to great lengths to buy back the ship so beloved of their late father.

ImageIt remains to be seen how this small, beautifully styled band of survivors can buck the trend of a depressed market that is largely dominated by mega ships. But, having seen these ships come so far, and watch them re-emerge after defying all the odds, it would be a rash man indeed who would bet against them.

I’m not that man. I wish both operations smooth seas, and a rising tide of good fortune.