OVERTURE TO OASIS: EUROPEAN LANDFALL IN 2014

Oasis Of The Seas is Europe bound this year

Oasis Of The Seas is Europe bound this year

With 2014 now a reality, excitement is starting to build over this year’s European debut of the giant Oasis Of The Seas in the autumn.

The 220,000 ton game changer will sail a pair of transatlantic crossings between America and Europe, together with a brace of five night Mediterranean cruises and an eight night cruise to Holland, on either side of her first scheduled dry docking and overhaul since her 2009 debut.

The first, twelve night transatlantic crossing sails from Fort Lauderdale on September 1st, and arrives in Barcelona on the 13th, with a stop at Malaga en route. This is followed by a pair of five night jaunts to Rome and Naples, departing on September 13th and 18th.

The Oasis Of The Seas then  heads for Rotterdam on September 23rd, on a seven night cruise that takes her via Malaga and Vigo. The giant ship will be in dry dock for two weeks, before a return crossing takes her from Southampton back to Fort Lauderdale on October 15th, with stops at Cozumel and Nassau en route.

This first major European landfall for the giant ship will surely be a trial run for future deployments. With a third ship in the class already on order from STX France, a fourth vessel as a distinct possibility, and sister ship Allure Of The Seas scheduled for her own major European overhaul in 2015, the short 2014 season for Oasis Of The Seas will determine such things as the intricacies involved in docking and supplying one of the two largest cruise ships ever built.

A longer deployment of one of these ships to Europe looks to be a certainty. With a capacity in excess of 5,400 passengers, the Oasis Of The Seas will present a unique set of logistical challenges for the Spanish and Italian ports she will visit. Any potential hitches that can be uncovered and overcome now will make for a more seamless series of future deployments.

While Rotterdam might seem a strange place for a two week, labour intensive overhaul, the Dutch port and Royal Caribbean actually have a shared history. The Vision class Enchantment Of The Seas was lengthened in the same Rotterdam dockyard a few years back, the first- and so far the only one- of that six ship class to get this treatment to date.

A highlight of the programme will be the arrival of Oasis Of The Seas in Southampton on October 15th. She will be by far the largest passengers ship ever to berth in the Hampshire port- bigger than the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth combined.

No doubt Royal Caribbean will take full advantage of the tidal wave of excitement her arrival will generate. Whatever your take on big, modern cruise ships, there is no doubt at all that the coming of Oasis Of The Seas raises the cruising ante in Europe by a couple of notches.

As always, stay tuned.

CHOOSING THE COACH- ROAD TRAVEL IN THE UK BY NATIONAL EXPRESS

London is the premier destination for coach companies like National Express

London is the premier destination for coach companies like National Express

Long distance public travel options in the UK usually come down to a choice between rail or coach travel. While rail travel in the UK is generally faster, the extortionate fares and massively disjointed network across the country do little to inspire either confidence or customer loyalty. And across the board fare increases of five per cent, just announced, certainly do not help sugar the pill.

So, what about coach travel? Exactly how does it stack up as an alternative to rail, if indeed it does at all? Here’s a few insights into the pros and cons of using a long distance coach in Great Britain.

Most long haul coaches in the UK are run by National Express.

Firstly, the great bulk of the coaches used on the long haul runs between Scotland and London are single deckers, with pairs of forward facing seats arranged down both sides.  Each comes with a seat belt, which has to be worn for the duration of the journey. The seat in front of you has a small mesh net for holding magazines, etc. There is air conditioning, an individual reading light, and a nominal amount of recline for each seat.

The seats are actually pretty comfortable, with a decent amount of leg room (disclaimer: I’m only five foot six in height). There is a rack above your head, but this is so thin as to be totally impracticable for any hand luggage. And that’s pretty much it.

The days of on board hostesses, selling sandwiches sand hot drinks in styro foam cups are long gone. So, too, are the old overhead TV monitors that used to break down with depressing predictability. In their place is free wi fi on most coaches, and a half hour stop at some ghastly, hideously over priced service station where the spirit of Dick Turpin strides proudly through a torrent of hideously antiseptic tat that masquerades as travel necessities. Every single one of them should be flattened as a service to humanity.

And it also takes longer to reach anywhere by coach these days- around seven hours to reach London from the north east of England. That’s a long time to be stuck in one place, with next to nothing but motorway to look at for hours on end.

There is a toilet, but using it as the coach shudders and vibrates is an adventure in and of itself. But there are plus sides to using these services as well.

For a start, your luggage is stowed safely in the cavernous belly of the coach. No lugging your belongings along the length of an often packed railway carriage here. And, price wise, the coaches are hugely competitive with rail.

If you’re flying from an airport such as Heathrow or Gatwick, coach services go almost right to the front door. This makes it a lot easier for commuters than struggling on and off a succession of long distance trains and/or packed underground carriages.

Nor is a coach in general any less comfortable than a train. The real weakness of coach travel is lack of any decent on board catering options, and, inevitably, sheer boredom. Additionally, you can now buy National Express coach tickets from the Post Office. Like other forms of travel, tickets are cheaper if bought in advance. And , although still relatively cheap, fares have crept steadily up over the years.

Drivers vary widely in terms of customer interaction. Some are gregarious and affable. others are obvious graduates of the Kim Jong Il school of charm.

So, there you go. Hopefully there is some food for thought in here, Wherever you decide to go- happy travelling!