MINI ANTIQUES- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY OFFERS SHORTER FLY CRUISES

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

In a move that is possibly a test run for future sailings, specialist operator Voyages To Antiquity is offering a pair of shorter fly cruises this May aboard the small, beautifully styled Aegean Odyssey.

The fly cruises are of five and nine nights’ duration respectively, and come inclusive of all flights, transfers, shore excursions with knowledgeable, in depth guides, and inclusive beer, wine and soft drinks with dinner each evening. And, with no single supplements to boot, they represent quite extraordinary value.

The first, five day jaunt departs from Istanbul on May 10th, with calls at Lemnos and Izmir to see the stunning, magnificent ruins of Ephesus. Moving on, the Aegean Odyssey then offers a morning touring among the sacred grave sites at Delos, followed by a few hours’ people watching in classy, stylish Mykonos, before disembarking in Athens on May 14th. Single fares for this trip begin at £895.

The second, nine night itinerary begins in Athens on May 14th, and finishes in Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. En route, the Aegean Odyssey visits Nauplia, to see the fabulous site of Epidaurus. After a day at sea, she sails on to Taormina, with it’s fantastic Greco-Roman hilltop theatre, and then on to the historic Sicilian city of Palermo for an overnight stay.

From here, Aegean Odyssey makes her way for another overnight stay; this time in fabled, springtime Sorrento. There is ample time to see such landmark sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum and, of course, the brooding Mount Vesuivius itself, as well as leaving time to enjoy some serious people watching in Piazza Tasso, or even a drive along to fabled Amalfi, or perhaps a boat trip out to Capri.

This cruise concludes the next morning. Prices for the inclusive, nine night package start from £1,495. Again, there is no single supplement.

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

Flights are usually arranged on the scheduled services of British Airways, and include domestic flights to Heathrow where necessary.

The Aegean Odyssey is a small, destination intensive cruise ship with an ambiance more akin to that of a floating country club than a vast maritime theme park. With a capacity for less then four hundred passengers, she offers fabulous service and dining- both indoors and out- and a smart casual dress code.

This is not a ship for those wanting a lively, late night environment. Think of her as a very comfortable combination of a boutique hotel and a fantastic, fulfilling and educational travel experience, and you have the gist.

I particularly recommend the cove balcony cabins in the aft part of the ship as a great buy. Nicely sheltered, and with lovely canvas chairs, they offer you an expansive and roomy vantage point from which to savour those balmy spring time Aegean and Mediterranean sunsets.

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TEMPLES OF ANCIENT EGYPT; CREATING THE CLASSICS

Karnak; a stone forest, immense against a cloudless blue sky

Karnak; a stone forest, immense against a cloudless blue sky

The stunning series of temples that unfurl along the east bank of the Nile collectively stand as mute, timeless testaments to the determination, ingenuity and sheer devotion of the ancient society that brought them to life. Even in their current, partially ruined and faded stances, they still have the power to instill awe and wonder in the modern traveller.

Egypt venerated over seven hundred different deities across the epochs of the great pharaohs, and the most significant of these had temples erected to them along the east bank of the Nile. For the Egyptians, the east bank was synonymous with eternal life; by contrast, all of the tombs are across the river, where the sun sets in the west.

Each major temple was devoted to one, specific god (with one notable exception that we’ll visit later). They were built in a near perfect, symmetrical form, from the inside out.

This began with the sanctuary; an absolute ‘holy of holies’ that, once completed, could be entered only by the high priest and the pharaoh himself. This would usually accommodate a plinth that held a ceremonial boat, to allow the god to sail on the Nile whenever he/she desired.

Leading into this would be a series of antechambers, used for rituals and special ceremonies. Backing further outwards, there would be a large, open air courtyard for the ordinary people, largely composed of massive, circular hypostyle columns, built of sandstone and engraved with top to bottom hieroglyphics, often telling the story of the deity concerned.

Pylon at the approach to Karnak

Pylon at the approach to Karnak

Just the construction of these columns alone is a staggering feat. Great Egyptian architects such as Imhotep deserve to be right up there with the likes of Sir Isaac Newton and Ismbard Kingdom Brunel in terms of their reputations for sheer ingenuity, and their grasp of the laws of science and physics. Raising each one of the huge columns (each one weighed a minimum of several hundred tons) was a magnificent feat; assuring the near perfect, timeless symmetry these magnificent relics still exhibit was nothing short of miraculous.

You can still see the greatest example of this in the petrified stone forest of the temple of Karnak, where no less than one hundred and thirty four such columns loom against the powder blue sky. At night, floodlit at their bases, they seem almost otherworldly. Imagine what they must have looked like when brand new.

As new, all of these temples were a swathe of fantastic colours; technicolor triumphs on an undreamed of scale. Centuries of exposure to a pitiless Egyptian sun has largely faded these, but you still can see traces of colour on the undersides of plinths, and the upper levels of shaded columns.

At the outermost extent, a pair of massive, adjacent pylons would give entrance to the temple complex. These massive sandstone structures look like nothing so much as the bulwarks of medieval castles. And their smooth, perfectly proportioned walls often contain the most mind blowing of all the giant engravings; a heroic melange of gods, pharaohs, battle scenes and tributes. These mute, massive murals were the equivalent of propaganda for the rulers of ancient Egypt.

Some temples, such as Karnak, are approached via an avenue lined on both sides by hundreds of ram headed sphinxes, leading to enormous, intricate obelisks and huge, seated statues of  the pharaohs. Others, such as the smaller, stunning Philae, are on an estuary in the middle of the river.

Temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo, Egypt

Temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo, Egypt

One of the few still accessible sites to be devoted to two gods is the temple of Kom Ombo,  sacred both to the falcon god, Horus, and to the evil crocodile god, Sobek. It is the only temple to have mirror images on both sides, one dedicated to each god.

Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis and, as slayer of his evil uncle, Set, he was platinum chip stuff  as far as ancient Egyptian deities go. The problem was Sobek.

In those days, Kom Ombo  was a feeding ground for thousands of ferocious Nile crocodiles. They took a huge toll of animals and humans alike. In an ultimately vain attempt to appease the evil Sobek, the Egyptians raised a joint temple to him. Today, falcon and crocodile gods still sit in uneasy, albeit aesthetically perfect symmetry.

The Egyptians even installed a sacred pool, where they nurtured and hatched crocodile eggs, returning the small snappers to the Nile as a futile gesture of appeasement. Thankfully, the descendants of those same crocodiles are now prevented from coming this far upstream by the impassable barrier of the dam at Aswan.

So, there you have it. Just a little insight into how these amazing structures came to be created. Intrigued? Go see for yourselves. Amazed? You will be…..

SAILING DOWN THE NILE; A DAY ON THE RIVER

The Nile is eternal

The Nile is eternal

Sailing the Nile is like slipping back some five thousand years in time at certain moments. Though the boats you sail on have changed immeasurably since the days when Akhenaton and Ramses crossed these same waters, there are sights, sounds and moments that those venerable, long gone demi gods of ancient Egypt would have recognised and remembered at once.

You see it in the cattle and oxen that graze idly at the water’s edge as you ghost silently by. The crocodiles that might once have taken them are now hundreds of miles to the south, contained in Lake Nasser by the concrete sarcophagus of the high dam at Aswan.

A Felucca or two might stand out across your path, with gently billowing white sails, cantered at a crazy angle as it heels sharply on the silver sheen of the ancient highway.

Small children in canoes paddle gamely out from between a gap in the ranks of sharp, spindly reeds that shroud the edges of the river banks on both sides.

The air is alive with the screeching and chattering of a myriad of birds, many of them keeping a wary eye on the odd, predatory hawk as it slowly circles high overhead, looking for a kill.

Buildings peep out at intervals from the serried ranks of slowly waving date palms. A blue domed mosque here, with spindly minarets clawing at a petrol blue sky. A half finished house there, with mud brick walls daubed a tired, sun bleached shade of musky ochre, with lines of washing hanging from the windows, drying out in the mid day heat.

A small truck here, overladen with fruit in rainbow shades. A tractor there, spluttering asthmatically into life as it rumbles toward the fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sunsets are tender, mellow affairs. The slowly setting sun in the west turns this most ancient and legendary of rivers- the golden highway of the Pharaohs- into what resembles a sea of blazing straw. A moment that is at once both still and electrifying. An ageless, almost supernatural feeling floats in the ether like stardust. A magic as old as time. One that Cleopatra, Nefertiti or Tutankhamun would have known. One that would have made them smile.

Now those same rows of date palms stand, black and massive, against the slowly setting curtain of the Nile sunset. The only sound is that of thousands of chirping crickets, plus the gentle tinkling of the ice in your sunset gin and tonic.

At moments like this, you feel more alive than ever.

A day in the life. A day on the Nile. An experience that sears itself into your soul. It stays with you long, long, after you actually leave it behind. Wonderful stuff.

FLIGHT REVIEW- EGYPTAIR HEATHROW TO LUXOR 17/3/2014

Fly Egyptair to Luxor. They know the way

Fly Egyptair to Luxor. They know the way

I was not much looking forward to this journey to begin with, but bit the bullet as the means to an end for getting to and from a brilliant cruise on the Nile. Why so?

Well, it’s a six hour flight, and Egyptair is a ‘dry’ airline. A couple of drinks takes some of the edge off such a long flight under normal circumstances.

Secondly, the airline uses the Boeing 737-800 on what is a moderately long haul route. For reasons that I honestly cannot adequately validate, I have never been a fan of the 737.

Having made those disclaimers, here’s the skinny on how things actually panned out.

Check in was easy, friendly and competently handled at Heathrow Terminal Three. Embarkation was brisk and efficient,via an air bridge, and staggered via groups of rows.

Once on board, the 737-800 featured two sets of economy seating, three abreast, separated by a central aisle just aft of the attractive looking business class seats. Overhead storage was more than adequate, even on what looked like a very busy flight.

The plane was clean, quite smart, with seats upholstered in sky blue, picked out in white detailing. I had managed to score an exit seat at the window, 20A, which gave me more than ample legroom (Though I’m 5’6″ in height). Push back was some ten minutes late, and we got a much appreciated welcome aboard from the flight deck, first in Egyptian, then in English.

Soaring above the Alps

Soaring above the Alps

Once airborne, in flight service began, courtesy of a very attentive and genuinely warm flight crew. Water, soft drinks, tea and coffee all around. Though the cold drinks were served in white plastic cups, these are no more or less worse than the see through plastic equivalents of other airlines. And at least Egyptair provide their economy passengers with proper drinks napkins, which is more than BA has done for quite some time.

Tables were provided in the side of the armrest, rather than the plastic, fold down ones on the seat backs in front preferred by so many carriers these days. No problems here, either.

In flight entertainment came in the form of two films, played on drop down, overhead screens. Headphones were provided free of charge at the start of the service. The first film was some nonsense with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Vinnie Jones. The second, a whimsical little affair called Escape From Planet Earth, was actually quite funny.

Meal service offered a pleasant surprise; a choice of two hot main courses, either chicken or beef. The beef, basted in paprika sauce, was surprisingly succulent and tender. I followed it with a zesty lemon and coconut tart, and a bread roll that was absolutely delicious. This service was delivered with another round of non alcoholic drinks.

Tables were cleared quickly and efficiently, just in time to settle down for the second feature. Toilets on this flight were spotlessly clean, fully stocked, and complete with two bottles of hand cleansing soap.

It was especially delightful looking out of the window, as we swept across the snow shrouded Alps at dusk. I was more than comfortable in my seat for the whole flight though, to be fair, I did not try the seat recline.

By the time we came in to land at Luxor, I was feeling far more relaxed and good humoured than I had expected. Landing cards had been distributed early in the flight, giving us ample time to fill them in; a pretty simple procedure.

Sky and snow....

Sky and snow….

Landing was smooth and painless, as was disembarkation. Strangely, there are no air bridges at Luxor for the national airline, which did surprise me.

Still, debarkation was a breeze, onto a pair of coaches awaiting us at the bottom of the steps. And the sensation of stepping out into the warm, welcoming night air of Luxor was such a tonic in itself. Despite our slight delay on take off, we arrived on the stand at Luxor a few minutes early.

That formerly ghastly airport has changed out of all recognition, and massively for the better. A visa (£12) was obtained, baggage collected and customs cleared, all within twenty minutes. With Discover Egypt reps awaiting us in the arrivals hall, transfers were seamless.

Conclusion? I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality, warmth and efficiency offered on this six hour, Egyptair flight. This was an impression reinforced one week later, when I flew back on the same route.

Recommended? Absolutely. Well done, Egyptair. It was a pleasure to fly with you.

THE SUDAN- PADDLE WHEELING ON THE NILE IN STYLE

The fabled Sudan, docked at Esna

The fabled Sudan, docked at Esna

Sailing along the Nile last week, I was shocked out of my indolent reverie by what I at first took to be a mirage. There, chugging gamely along ahead of us, was a long, black paddle steamer, smoke belching from her single, squat black funnel as her paddle wheels thrashed up the surface of the river.

She was a stunning sight. Two long, open promenade decks, reminiscent of the Mississippi paddle wheelers of old. ran from bow to stern. The paddles, situated amidships on either side, seemed to work at a frantic pace. As we slowly ghosted past her, the steam whistle on her funnel whistled a thin, reedy salute across to us. And then, still trailing smoke, she disappeared behind a bend in the river as we surged on towards Aswan.

Enchanted, I had to learn more about her…

Her name is Sudan, and she is the only survivor of a trio of sisters- the others were the Egypt and Arabia- built by the venerable Thomas Cook travel company between 1911 and 1922. Cook had pioneered the modern tourist travel experience, with expeditions to Egypt back in the 1860’s. The three new ships were built to make the trip from Cairo down to Aswan, in around twenty days.

This was at the time when the likes of Howard Carter and his patron, Lord Carnarvon, had made Egypt front page news with the discovery of the fabled tomb of Tutankhamen. The Nile was alive with a constant procession of archaeologists, diplomats and well heeled rubberneckers, sailing between the various stunning sights along the river. Until 1935, the Sudan prospered on the tourist trade.

A timeless classic

A timeless classic

One of these tourists was a young lady by the name of Agatha Christie. With her then husband, she embarked on an archaeological mission in 1933. Enraptured by the journey, her voyage on the Sudan inspired Christie to subsequently write the timeless, hugely popular novel, Death On The Nile. And, in a complete full circle, some of the scenes from the 1978 film of the same name were filmed on board the laid up Sudan.

The advent of war in 1939 saw the collapse of the Nile trade. The Sudan lay moldering at dock until 1991, when an Egyptian company attempted unsuccessfully to resuscitate the fabled steamer. In 2000, these joined forces with a French company, Voyageurs du Monde, and began a complete, six month stem to stern restoration of the Sudan. In 2006, the French took complete ownership of the vessel.

On the technical side, the 236 foot long, 32 foot wide Sudan displaces a sprightly six hundred tons. She is powered by a pair of triple expansion engines that generate some five hundred horsepower, allowing her twin paddle wheels to push her along at a stately 9.5 knots. But these are mere materialistic drum rolls.

Today, the gracefully restored Sudan chugs gamely along the scintillating expanse of the most amazing waterway on earth. Suffused with the aura of another age and style, the Sudan is an evocative brew of elegant woodwork and brightly polished copper. Billowing canvas awnings across the upper deck shield the modern wannabe Poirot from the heat of the mid day sun. On deck, cushioned wicker chairs and loungers sit framed by billowing, damask drapes. It all combines to give the Sudan a stance and ambiance quite unlike any other vessel plying the ancient waterway; the golden highway of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.

The Sudan offers some eighteen cabins and five suites. One of these is inevitably named for Agatha Christie, another for Hercule Poirot,  and another- oddly- for Lady Duff Gordon, of Titanic infamy. All feature parquet floors, copper bed frames, and elegant period furnishings. The air conditioned rooms all come in soothing tones of orange, fuschia and absinthe.

Interested? Me too.

Add on a stay at Aswan's legendary Old Cataract hotel

Add on a stay at Aswan’s legendary Old Cataract hotel

The Sudan is currently operating on five day, four night cruises from Luxor to Aswan, taking in such exotic sights along the way as Esna, Edfu, and Kom Ombo. And, for sheer, platinum chip nostalgia, imagine combining a voyage on this vintage time machine with a stay at the fabulous Old Cataract hotel, right on the banks of the Nile at Aswan? Lovely.

KARNAK TEMPLE PHOTO GALLERY, LUXOR, EGYPT

The stunning temple of Karnak, one of the true treasures of Egypt, is one of the showpieces of the ancient city of Luxor, straddling the east bank of the legendary Nile. These pictures give only a small idea of its staggering scale and still graceful, ruined grandeur.

The approach to Karnak is epic

The approach to Karnak is epic

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

The courtyard of hypostyle columns is a jaw dropping sight, even now

The courtyard of hypostyle columns is a jaw dropping sight, even now

Looking up to the top of some of these columns. There are 134 of them in all

Looking up to the top of some of these columns. There are 134 of them in all

The rear face of the temple area

The rear face of the temple area

You can still see the original hieroglyphics engraved into these vast stone columns

You can still see the original hieroglyphics engraved into these vast stone columns

A stone forest, immense against a cloudless blue sky

A stone forest, immense against a cloudless blue sky

Overwhelming in scale even now, this was the centre of the ancient world of Egypt

Overwhelming in scale even now, this was the centre of the ancient world of Egypt

These incredible carvings would have been in full colour when new

These incredible carvings would have been in full colour when new

Awe inspiring and ageless.....

Awe inspiring and ageless…..

ETERNAL EGYPT- TRAVELLING THROUGH TIME

The Nile at dawn

The Nile at dawn

Sunrise on the Nile. A line of date palms stand black against the first, rosy glow of dawn. The air is filled with the chirruping of countless crickets, and the first, plaintive cries of the local Muezzin, making his early morning call to prayer. On the ancient river, a felucca ghosts silently across the glassy, gun metal expanse, cutting the faintest furrow on the surface. In Egypt, such scenes have echoed right down through the centuries.

The Nile is, without doubt, the greatest river in history. It winds in a sinuous, serpentine sprawl for over six thousand miles along its length. Far more than a river, it is the very life blood of  Egypt; the source and the wellspring of what was once the greatest civilisation in human history; the land of the Pharoahs.

The river was the golden, gilded highway traversed by the likes of Akhenaton, Ramses The Great, Tutankhamun and, of course, Cleopatra, as they rode downstream at sunset on impossibly fabulous, gilded barges. It was the route that allowed all the stone quarried from Aswan to be carried upstream to create the staggering  pyramids, as well as the colossal temples of Luxor, Karnak, and Kom Ombo, to name but a few.

In the next series of articles, we will be visiting many of these fabled sites. From the awe inspiring Karnak, with its one hundred and thirty four ageless, awesome hypostyle columns that still loom against a powder blue sky after centuries, to the temple of Sobek, the evil crocodile god, at Kom Ombo.

Egypt, the Nile, and the gods worshipped by the people form an inviolable, eternal triangle, as inextricably linked together now as they were some five thousand years ago. More than seven hundred animal and human deities were venerated in temples of staggering size, scale and complexity, raised mostly along the length of the east bank of the river. This alignment along one bank of the Nile had particular significance for the people.

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt

Rising each day over the east bank of the Nile, the sun symbolised life to the ancient Egyptians, and so, too, did that side of the river. When the sun set over the west bank, it was seen as the death of the day; the end of a complete cycle. The next day would see the rebirth of the sun as it rose, once again, in the east.

Thus, all the Pharoahs and notables of Egypt were buried on the west bank. Here, carved into the vast, limestone quarries of the Valley Of The Kings, are the resting places of at least sixty two kings of Egypt, with possibly many more still waiting to be discovered.

Death, life and rebirth. The cycle keeps repeating right across this amazing land, one so magnetic and compelling that it has an almost supernatural allure.  A silent, impassive enigma, shrouded in the ghosts of its past glories, and tormented by the troubles of the present age. And yet….

For all of that, Egypt remains eternal, and more enigmatic than ever. Politicians, generals, and their vain, bloody ambitions come and go like drum rolls. But the Nile still rolls on, just as it always has, and always will.

Over this next series of blogs, I’d like to introduce you to some of the treasures and highlights of this fabulous, surreal expanse. A new take on a timeless tale. Memories that will stay with me until the day I die but, in the life span of Egypt itself, nothing more than a grain of sand.

Intrigued? Good. Now we may begin……

 

 

 

MAKING A DRAMA OUT OF A CRISIS- MANAGING BAD NEWS

Royal Caribbean engineered a master class in damage limitation

Royal Caribbean engineered a master class in damage limitation

We’ve seen it time and time again in the travel trade; an incident regarding an airline or a cruise line begins to register on the public consciousness; the company concerned goes into damage limitation mode, trying to ride the coat tails of a story that is already spreading like an atomic mushroom cloud, thanks to the internet. That is the stage where it can either be brought back onto an even keel, or go spectacularly wrong. In the last year, we’ve seen classic examples of both.

The focus of most brands is damage limitation, and that’s fair enough as far as it goes. It’s how you go about it that can determine just how strongly- or otherwise- a company rebounds from something that, all too often, cannot be helped.

A case in point is the current, tragic Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 that came down last week, with over 220 people aboard. Here, the owners really are caught between a rock and a hard place; they have no concrete news to share (or at least none that has been declared fit for public consumption); the result is a nebulous void that has been filled to overflowing with every kind of poisonous quackery imaginable.

The sheer, ghastly impact of all of this on the relatives of those on board is unthinkable. And yet, time and time again, those same relatives are seen to reiterate the same, general theme; anger at Malaysian Airlines, and the constantly repeated mantra that they are not being told the truth.

And nothing is more damaging to any travel brand in a crisis; the perception- right or wrong- that they are not being up front. In the absence of news, perception assumes a life of its own. Rumours feed it. And so, too, does silence from the owners. To use an unfortunate pun, it’s a perfect storm.

Don't want this to be the perception of your brand? Get pro-active....

Don’t want this to be the perception of your brand? Get pro-active….

For example, look at the ongoing, shabby farce that continues to surround the stalled QE2 regeneration project at Dubai. When they have actually deigned to communicate with the wider travel community, the owners have told one half truth after another, as well as making a whole raft of vague, woolly promises that have never materialised. Departure dates have come and gone with the regularity of planes at Dubai International.

The result? A complete and utter disconnect from the mainstream, to such an extent that nobody now believes a word that comes out of the owners’ mouths. The Dubai ownership of QE2 has squandered a huge amount of goodwill- and potential support- in their alleged efforts to revitalise the ship, and invest in her future. And, while the ‘gentlemen’ concerned are certainly awash with money, losing that kind of goodwill is not something that any savvy operator can afford. Once gone, it cannot be bought back.

Does it have to be like that? Nope. Consider the recent incident at Azamara Club Cruises, where the line’s Azamara Journey had a propeller blade problem that resulted in the premature end of one cruise, and an unscheduled dry docking for repairs. It could have gone horribly pear shaped.

Instead, all passengers on board were immediately told what had happened, as well as those scheduled to embark for the follow on cruise. Azamara CEO, Larry Pimentel, flew to meet the ship on arrival, and personally spoke to all those affected guests. The company provided compensation that satisfied all injured parties and- much more to the point- Pimentel did one crucially important thing.

He communicated. 

Pimentel got pro-active, via social media such as Twitter, and sent frequent, on time updates across the internet. Not only that but, as repairs progressed, he sent out photographs of the work in progress.

Head in the clouds?

Head in the clouds?

In so doing, he took the sting out of the story, and turned it right around. While seemingly obvious- and absolutely the right thing to do- this was an absolute master class in how to get it right, and the company deserves huge kudos for it’s initiative. It bought Azamara a priceless return in credibility and trustworthiness; one which will certainly work to the line’s advantage in the long term.

In a similar vein, when Royal Caribbean had a fire last year on Grandeur Of The Seas, the line adopted exactly the same tactic; tweeting updates on social media and Facebook, and dispatching CEO Adam Goldstein to meet the ship and her passengers in Nassau. All passengers were well compensated and, where necessary, put up in hotels and flown home, all at company expense.

And, crucially, all of this information was out in the public domain in real time; as it happened. Royal Caribbean ran with the narrative, pre-empting a tidal wave of potential, adverse press headlines and on line speculation.

Again, this was an object lesson in how to get it right. If only they could bottle and sell some of that savvy to the status conscious paladins of Dubai.

When heading toward the edge of a cliff, best not to floor the speed pedal...

When heading toward the edge of a cliff, best not to floor the speed pedal…

The bottom line? Get pro-active. When potentially brand damaging stories begin to break, don’t just pull down the shutters, and hope that it will all just blow by. It won’t. You can’t grab the reins when you’re sitting in a bunker.

Because, when all is said and done, nothing amplifies the most scurrilous and unfounded rumour quite like official silence from the top. It creates a perception- right or wrong- that you are either aloof, disengaged, in denial or, worst of all, downright callous and/or incompetent.

That’s brand suicide.

RISING SUN; NORWEGIAN STALWART GETS SOME STUNNING NEW 2015 ITINERARIES

The Norwegian Sun at St. Thomas, USVI

The Norwegian Sun at St. Thomas, USVI

Tucked away in the Norwegian Cruise Line press release for 2015-16 winter cruises were some truly different, off the beaten track options for the stalwart, still highly popular Norwegian Sun.

Introduced in September 2001, Norwegian Sun was the first of the company’s ships especially built to showcase the Freestyle Dining concept which has since became the Norwegian touchstone.

The 78,000 ton vessel- one of the most beautiful ships afloat anywhere- was initially based in the Caribbean, before several Alaska seasons, and even some South America sailings, before Norwegian deployed her for a few summer seasons in Northern Europe.

In recent years, she has returned to her original home port of Miami, alternating winter Caribbean cruises with summer voyages in Alaska. As of now, she is scheduled to move to Tampa this autumn.

In October 2015, the Norwegian Sun will relocate to San Diego for the first of three, eleven  night round trip cruises to the Mexican Riviera. Highlights of these will include an overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas; other ports visited will include Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, La Paz, and Ensenada.

But the real highlight of the programme is the return of Norwegian Sun to fourteen night, round South America cruises. Running in both directions between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, Chile, these cruises will sail from November 2015 through to April of 2016.

Ports of call will include Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Port Stanley in the Falklands, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn, and Uruguay’s show stopping capital of Montevideo. En route , passengers can savour the scenic delights of the Chilean Fords and the Straits Of Magellan, as well as the famous voyage around Cape Horn.

These South America runs mark the return of Norwegian to the region for the first time since 2010, when Norwegian Sun herself closed out a seasonal run offered for many years by both Norwegian Dream (now Superstar Gemini) and Norwegian Crown (now Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral).

With scenery at least comparable in terms of scale, scope and beauty to Norway, not to mention infinitely more settled and benign weather, these forays into the Chilean Fjords offer some of the best, most destination intensive cruises available in the Southern Hemisphere. Add in the option of spending a few days, pre or post cruise in sultry Buenos Aires, and the appeal of these trips is obvious.

As companies such as Costa, MSC and Royal Caribbean continue to enjoy success with seasonal, week long South America cruises that take in the highlights of Brazil and Argentina, it seems only a matter of time until Norwegian follows suit. But, for now, the return of Norwegian Sun to round the Cape cruises provides a welcome burst of colour to an oft neglected region.

NORWEGIAN RINGS THE CHANGES; BOTH JADE AND SPIRIT TO LEAVE EUROPE NEXT AUTUMN

It's 'Sayonara' to Europe for Norwegian Spirit in fall 2105

It’s ‘Sayonara’ to Europe for Norwegian Spirit in fall 2105

As predicted in this blog a few weeks ago, autumn 2015 will see the redeployment of the Norwegian Spirit from Europe to Port Canaveral. Next November the ship, based out of Barcelona for the past several years, will cross the Atlantic to operate seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from the Florida port.

What I did not expect was that Norwegian Jade, based largely on Civitavecchia and Venice for several years, will also be leaving to redeploy to Houston. Once there, she will run weekly, seven night Western Caribbean itineraries to Cozumel, Roatan, and the new Norwegian complex at Harvest Caye.

Both of these moves follow the decision to relocate the monumental Norwegian Epic to Europe on a permanent basis. The enormous ship will remain the sole, year round presence in Europe, at least for the foreseeable future.

That, coupled with a deal between Norwegian and the Port Canaveral authorities to home port at least one large ship there, made the Norwegian Spirit seem the most likely candidate. She will leave Barcelona on November 5, 2015, on a sixteen night repositioning cruise to Florida, sailing via Madeira, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Spirit is redeploying to the Caribbean

Spirit is redeploying to the Caribbean

Norwegian Spirit will then sail alternating seven night eastern and western itineraries. Eastern runs will showcase calls in Nassau, Tortola and St. Thomas. Western runs will take the ship to Ocho Rios, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and the private Bahamian island of Great Stirrup Cay.

Norwegian has thus far made no announcement of a ship for Scandinavia for 2016. This seasonal role is traditionally handled by Norwegian Star, which will be in the region for a full season of 2015 summer cruises to the Baltic.

In other Norwegian news, the sublime Norwegian Sun makes a welcome return to South America cruises next winter, operating a series of fourteen night, round trip sailings between Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile; a programme she last sailed back in 2010.

Prior to that, Norwegian Sun will offer a trio of eleven night round trips to the Mexican Riviera from San Diego. All three of these cruises will feature an overnight call at Cabo San Lucas as a highlight.

The line will also have an all winter presence on the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles, with the deployment of Norwegian Jewel to operate a series of some twenty- two, seven day round trip cruises. Beginning on October 5th, 2015, these will offer calls at Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

Details can be tweaked, and even changed completely. My advice; stay tuned.