RHODES OLD TOWN PHOTO GALLERY

Of all the treasures that litter the historic, hedonistic glut of the Greek islands, few, if any, match the old town of Rhodes. The centre of the town constitutes nothing less than an amazing medieval theme park; a beguiling warren of winding, cobbled streets that lead, almost inexorably, to the almost completely intact Palace of the Grand Masters, the stunning fourteenth century series of fortifications that once protected the harbour entrance. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the visit…..

Rhodes Town, one of the few straight streets

Rhodes Town, one of the few straight streets

Crenellated battlements in the mid day sun

Crenellated battlements in the mid day sun

That really is a room with an old world view

That really is a room with an old world view

This was once the scene of desperate fighting

This was once the scene of desperate fighting

Walls bleached white by centuries of sun

Walls bleached white by centuries of sun

An amazing, almost perfect sight

An amazing, almost perfect sight

The Palace of the Grand Masters

The Palace of the Grand Masters

The scale of the Palace is obvious from here

The scale of the Palace is obvious from here

Fountain in the middle of the old town, Rhodes

Fountain in the middle of the old town, Rhodes

Unfinished grain mills on the waterfront

Unfinished grain mills on the waterfront

The castle keep on the harbour's edge

The castle keep on the harbour’s edge

Even now, the quality of the work is amazing

Even now, the quality of the work is amazing

Sun and shade in the middle of town

Sun and shade in the middle of town

The central fountain in Rhode old town

The central fountain in Rhodes old town

MAJESTY OF THE SEAS…..ON BORROWED TIME?

Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

In the beginning, there were three.

As the eighties gave way to the nineties, Royal Caribbean International introduced the most stunning trio of mega ships that the maritime world had ever seen into service. Beginning with Sovereign Of The Seas in January of 1988, the line followed up with two near identical sisters four years later; Monarch Of The Seas and, lastly, the Majesty Of The Seas.

Their collective impact was nothing short of sensational; it immediately triggered a similar sized response from main rival, Carnival, in the shape of the Fantasy class ships. The three sisters were the first true mega ships built purposely for cruising, and people flocked aboard them in droves.

They were not only huge; they were also beautiful. With perfectly flared bows, graceful, cruiser style sterns clealy influenced by the brilliant Normandie, and snow white flanks, the three sisters, each one topped by the distinctive Viking Crown funnel, were stunning visual masterpieces. And they were just as exquisite on the inside, too.

At 74,000 tons each, the three sisters each accommodated over 2700 passengers in both inside and outside cabins. In those days, balcony cabins had not yet caught on. On these ships, most of the cabins were arranged in the forward part of the ship. And, like most of their rivals at the time, those cabins were often very small; the insides in particular measured only some 122 square feet each. And yet, people were more than happy with them at the time. The ships went out full, week after week.

Centrum on Majesty

Centrum on Majesty

The main public rooms were stacked up in the aft halves of the ships, like the tiers of a wedding cake. The dividing point between cabins and revnue centres came in the form of a beautiful, five story atrium lobby; a shimmering confection of brass, glass and polished wood that acted as a kind of maritime crossroads.

Everything about those ships marked them out as a palpable break with the past. In their first years, each of the three ships sailed from either Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico, on seven night, western and eastern Caribbean cruises. They were sassy, stylish, and crammed with good things to do, and as such they were enormously popular, laying the foundation for the dramatic expansion of Royal Caribbean as a player capable of challenging even the mighty Carnival itself.

Ironically, in one respect, they were too successful. Their success was such that it triggered a whole new raft of mega ships for Royal Caribbean. But these new ships now spouted rows of balcony cabins, rock climbing walls, and the first flowering of alternative restaurants that are now a mainstay of the whole industry. And, unsurprisingly, they became the new industry standard.

By the first years of the new century, Sovereign, Monarch and Majesty Of The Seas were all sailing on shorter, three and four night cruises each week; from Miami and Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and- in the case of Majesty- a similar series of cruises out of Los Angeles, before she returned to Miami to replace Monarch Of The Seas on the Bahamas run. Again, the three ships were hugely popular on these short, destination intensive ‘party’ cruises.

Atrium level dance floor

Atrium level dance floor

Still, it was obvious that all were on borrowed time, at least as key elements of the Royal Caribbean portfolio. Sure enough, the Sovereign Of The Seas was rotated out of the fleet a few years ago, and hived off to Pullmantur, the Spanish satellite of Royal Caribbean. She now operates for them on year round, seven night cruises in the Mediterranean, under the cunningly abbreviated monicker of Sovereign.

Then, last year, Monarch Of The Seas also made the transition to Pullmantur. Now, in an ironic echo of her early days, she once again operates year round, seven night cruises in the southern Caribbean. She is known simply as Monarch these days.

And then there was one…

By this time, Majesty Of The Seas was operating three and four night itineraries out of Miami. The three night voyages sailed on a Friday, and called at Nassau and the company’s ‘private island’ at Coco Cay.  Four night, Monday departures added Key West to the three night run. It is an itinerary she still sails to this day.

The question is, for how much longer?

Logic would seem to dictate that, as soon as new tonnage becomes available- and that will not be too long- the Majesty will also make the pilgrimage to rejoin her two sister ships at Pullmantur. However, the state of the Spanish market is not good right now (just look at the gradual winding down of Iberocruises and the collapse of Quail Cruises). Whether Pullmatur could safely absorb another vessel with the 2700 passenger capacity of Majesty Of The Seas is highly questionable.

Boleros

Boleros

According to the Royal Caribbean website, Majesty Of The Seas has Bahamas sailings listed right through util February of 2016, though of course that could change in a heart beat.

I sailed on the Majesty Of The Seas twice, on a couple of short, sweet weekend breaks out of Miami. I found her to be a charming, beautiful and well run ship, immaculately clean, and brimming with fun things to do. Sure, the cabins were only marginally bigger than a pygmy’s postage stamp, but I spent very little time in mine on either cruise.

She has been updated as far as the parameters of a hull form decided in 1985 can allow; there is a branch of Johnny Rockets on board, the retro fifties burger bar cum diner that has become a popular franchise, while some sixty two cabins and suites also had balconies added during an earlier make over. The interiors got a comprehensive refreshment, and the night life handle of the ship also took a lift from the introduction of  Boleros, a Latin themed salsa bar, with a sizzling dance floor and wicked, weapons grade Mojitos.

As the last member of that pioneering trio of mega ships still sailing with the company, I hope that Royal Caribbean will continue to cherish her for a few more years.

Pool deck and Viking Crown on Majesty Of The Seas

Pool deck and Viking Crown on Majesty Of The Seas

IT’S A MIRACLE! CARNIVAL RETURNS TO YEAR ROUND MEXICAN RIVIERA CRUISING

Carnival is going back to Mexico

Carnival is going back to Mexico

In a move that should prove hugely beneficial to the Mexican economy, Carnival has announced that it will return to year round, Mexican Riviera cruises from the port of Long Beach, in Los Angeles. The Vista class Carnival Miracle will undertake a series of three different, seven night itineraries, as well as a couple of longer swings out to the islands of Hawaii and back.

The seven day Mexican Riviera market had been in decline for several years; with on shore violence in Mazatlan especially being a reason cited for many companies withdrawing ships from what had once been a popular cruising circuit.

With the return of the 88,000 ton Carnival Miracle, the route gets it’s first year round vessel for several years. Carnival Miracle has yet to receive the series of Funship 2.0 series of dining and entertainment upgrades being gradually rolled out across the Carnival fleet; but she is scheduled for a dry docking in March, 2015 which is expected to bring her fully up to specification.

The first of the seven night offerings is a return to what was the original classic run; a seven night round trip that showcased day long stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and the famous seaside resort of Cabo San Lucas.

The second itinerary should prove really popular, combining a two day, overnight stop in the popular destination of Puerto Vallarta with another, day long stop in Cabo San Lucas.

Itinerary number three showcases a day in Puerto Vallarta with a two day, overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas. However, those contemplating sampling some of Cabo’s legendary night life are in for a disappointment. The resort is a tender port, and tenders do not run at night.

As also mentioned, the Carnival Miracle will also make a couple of exquisite, fifteen night forays from Long Beach out to the Hawaiian Islands and back the first in October 2015, and the second one a month later.

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

In addition to the seven night runs, Carnival also operates two smaller sister ships, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration,  from the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro, the main port of Los Angeles, on a weekly series of three and four night cruises.

Three night cruises call in at the Mexican port of Ensenada, while the four night sailings add in the resort of Avalon, on Catalina Island.

Combined with the return of the rival Norwegian Star to seven night Mexican Riviera sailings out of San Pedro, the arrival of Carnival Miracle in Long Beach offers another, no doubt welcome sign of better days ahead for this once popular cruise circuit.

THE MARCO POLO; THE GREAT SURVIVOR

The gorgeous Art Deco terraces of the elegant Marco Polo

The gorgeous Art Deco terraces of the elegant Marco Polo

Ocean liner and cruise ship fans are a notoriously sentimental lot. They can- and often do- become extraordinarily attached to all manner of different ships, from the palatial to the downright pokey. And yet, right across the board, few ships evoke such a tidal wave of awe, sentiment, and even reverence quite like the Marco Polo.

This might seem strange to some. At 22,000 tons, the Marco Polo is only a tenth of the gross tonnage of the Oasis Of The Seas, There is not a single cabin balcony to be found on board her anywhere. And she has lines that clearly identify her as the product of another age, time and mindset.

And, of course, therein lies her charm.

The old girl was originally built in 1965 as the Alexsandr Pushkin, one of a quintet of sisters built for the then Soviet merchant marine. Staunch and graceful but internally austere, she was a steady, workmanlike ship with a specially ice strengthened hull. And it was this fact that led directly to her second, amazing life as the Marco Polo.

When he decided to form the legendary Orient Lines in 1991, founder Gerry Herrod wanted a ship that could operate anywhere with equal ease, comfort and impunity, from the waters off Amalfi to the ice strewn wastes of Antarctica. For him, the moribund Pushkin was the ideal ship.

Cocktail Bar, Marco Polo

Cocktail Bar, Marco Polo

Over the next two years, the brusque, outmoded Russian matriach would be gradually transformed into the gorgeous, Art Deco suffused Marco Polo. Except for the engines, the entire interior was, in Herrod’s own, succint phrase, ‘scooped out like an avocado’. From truck to keel and stem to stern, an entire new ship took shape, carefully crafted within the confines of the original graceful, still eminently seaworthy hull.

The reborn Marco Polo came back into service in October 1993 and, after a few initial hiccups, quickly settled into a popular, profitable cruise service. With a trio of aft facing, upper deck Jacuzzis and a set of elegant, cascading tiered decks at the stern, the Marco Polo became a byword for style, glamour and elegant adventure cruising. With superb food and flawless service, she set the benchmark for luxury exploration. That proud silhouette, with its gorgeous sheer, gracefully raked prow and jaunty single funnel, would become just as familiar a sight at the top of the North Cape, or lying at anchor off pristine Portofino.

When Orient Lines was bought by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1999, the company became part of a much larger operation. A period of retrenchment at Norwegian resulted in the winding down of Orient Lines, and a period of Marco Polo sailing on charter for the German tour operator, Transocean Cruises. The venerable ship seemed lost to the British market forever.

Marco Polo entrance lobby

Marco Polo entrance lobby

Happily, the establishment of the British owned and run Cruise And Maritime Voyages (CMV) resulted in the return of the Marco Polo to the UK cruise market. Now based mainly in Tilbury (but also offering seasonal sailings from Newcastle and sometimes Rosyth, Scotland), the still elegant ship is today a warm, welcoming cocoon of intimate, expansive civility.

I sailed on her a year or so ago, after an absence of fourteen years, and it was like falling in love all over again. Those still sinuous, gracefully curved aft terraces, and the trio of bubbling, upper deck hot tubs, were as welcoming as ever. Inside, the Art Deco interiors and opulent, Balinese accented art work assembled with such care and effort by Gerry Herrod, remain gloriously intact. There was definitely a very welcome feeling of ‘falling through the looking glass’ here.

With a passenger capacity of 800, the Marco Polo is an adults only ship these days. The cabins have real keys and, while they lack balconies, they are cosy little retreats, handy for almost everything. The casino of the Orient Lines era has been replaced by the centrally located Columbus Club but, other than that, the Marco Polo was almost exactly as I remember her.

Today, the still majestic vessel makes voyages ranging from long weekend cruises to Amsterdam and Antwerp, to epic, forty two day grand sweeps out to the highlights of the Caribbean and Amazon. Sleek, diminutive in size but vast in terms of welcome, the Marco Polo turns heads wherever she goes; a floating time capsule that sails on in the here and now.

There are no rock climbing walls, flow riders, Vegas-style floor shows; no glut of speciality restaurants aboard the Marco Polo. This is a ship that has a raison d’etre rather than a theme.

Those gorgeous aft terraces.....

Those gorgeous aft terraces…..

Here you have a gracious, beautifully appointed, slightly quirky grand dame that has a heart, a soul, and a charisma all of her own. A subtle, seductive vibe exists aboard the Marco Polo that simply cannot be replicated, cloned, or enhanced in any maritime architect’s renderings, however talented.

I hope she sails forever, personally. But my advice is, if this style of ship does make your adrenaline flow that bit quicker, then get out there. Enjoy!

MSC ANNOUNCES NEW ORDER- PROJECT SEASIDE

Pool area on the MSC Magnifica

Pool area on the MSC Magnifica

As was widely expected, MSC Cruises has just announced a 2.1 billion euro order with the Italian Fincantieri shipyard for a pair of new ships, with an option for a third. The first of the new class- code named Project Seaside- is scheduled for delivery in November 2017, and the second in May, 2018.

The dimensions are quite staggering; with a length of 323 metres, the two ships will be 70 metres high, and have an extraordinarily wide draft of 41 metres each. At some 154,000 tons, these two ships will be the largest ever to be built in an Italian yard. Artist’s illustrations of the twin sisters reveal a silhouette that is substantially influenced by both the Oasis class juggernauts of Royal Caribbean, as well as the one off Norwegian Epic.

The two ships will be capable of accommodating 5,300 passengers across a total of 2,070 cabins, as well as a crew of some 1,413.

The extra wide beam will facilitate an extraordinary amount of interior public spaces, estimated at around 43,500 square metres. It is also claimed that the two ships will be able to dock in any port around the world, an incredible statement in light of their vast dimensions.

As far as general arrangements go, the ships will offer what is described as a ‘sea level promenade’ that will feature a string of outdoor bars, shops and restaurants. The line here has clearly been taking note of the phenomenal success of similar outdoor areas on the last two Norwegian new builds, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, as well as- to a lesser -extent- the three ships of the popular Carnival Dream series.

As things stand, MSC Cruises is entering a period of growth and enhancement that would make even Royal Caribbean look to its laurels. In addition to the new ships announced today, the line also has committed to a pair of 150,000 ton giant cruise ships from the STX shipyard in France.

In addition to that, Fincantieri will also begin a programme of chopping and stretching each of the four smallest ships in the MSC fleet- Lirica, Armonia, Sinfonia and Opera, over the coming winter through to spring, 2015. Each of the four extended, enhanced vessels will come in at around 65,000 tons. While big, this is still a long way smaller than the quartet of new behemoths that are in the pipeline.

The new builds will take MSC Cruises from a twelve ship fleet to sixteen within a timescale of only four years from now. By any standards you care to judge these new vessels, it is still a pretty staggering achievement for any line.

As always, stay tuned.

Update: MSC cruises has just announced that one of their massive, 133,000 ton Fantasia class ships will be coming to sail from the UK in eother 2016 or 2017.

TWO NEW SHIPS FOR OCEANIA?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Are new ships on the horizon for Oceania?

Increasingly strong rumours are circulating that Oceania Cruises is about to announce an order for a pair of new builds. The two ships are expected to be built in the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy.

The two ships are said to be similar to the previous two Fincantieri new builds, the 66,000 ton sister ships, Marina and Riviera. With a capacity for around 1260 passengers each, these two vessels provided a significant upgrade for the line. Since their introduction in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the two sister ships have garnered rave reviews for their food, service and elegant, sophisticated ambiance. A continuation on the same theme thus seems infinitely sensible.

Oceania Cruises was formed in 2003. Under the stewardship of industry stalwarts Joe Watters, formerly of Crystal, and Frank Del Rio of Renaissance, the company began operations with a pair of 30,000 ton, ex-Renaissance ships, relaunched as the Regatta and Insignia respectively.

From the beginning, Oceania placed an emphasis on excellent service and stellar dining. At the time, the company had the highest per passenger spend on food in the entire cruise industry. In the early years, the ships were sent on longer, twelve nights plus cruises all over Europe and the Caribbean.

So popular did their intimate style prove that the company took on a third of the ex-Renaissance ships. Restyled as the  Nautica, they sent her on more extensive itineraries, centered around the Far East. Meanwhile, Insignia was chartered out to Hapag Lloyd Cruises for a two year term. That recently ended and the ship, after a substantial refurbishment, is once more back in the Oceania fold.

The debut of Marina and Riviera showcased a pair of sister ships more than twice the size of the original trio, without sacrificing the elegant largesse of the original concept. The new design allowed for the inclusion of several separate dining areas, such as the highly acclaimed Red Ginger, and permitted the inclusion of some truly spectacular, top drawer suites in excess of 2,000 square feet. These easily rank as some of the most sumptuous apartments anywhere at sea.

These two spectacular ships have been so successful that all three of the original trio have now been tweaked to incorporate design elements of the Marina/Riviera. Little wonder that the two new ships are expected to be a continuation on what has been a hugely popular theme, rather than an attempt at creating something radical.

Oceania is not really a line for those looking for extensive night life and top drawer entertainment.  Rather, it has carved out a solid niche for itself as an operator of highly styled, well fed and superbly served ships. And the addition of another two ships would take the company to seven, giving it quite an extensive deployment handle.

As always, stay tuned for any developments.

FOUR NEW ORDERS FOR FINCANTIERI?

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

I mentioned in a previous blog that MSC Cruises were very strongly rumoured to be about to announce a second pair of new builds, in addition to the pair of new mega ships just ordered from the French shipyard, STX. It now looks like that announcement could be imminent.

The two new Italian builds are bruited to be of around 152,000 tons, with a length of some 310 metres each, and a projected total cost of some 1.4 billion euros. The first ship could be slated for delivery as early as 2017.

And- as previously alluded- the same yard is also expected to announce confirmation of yet another order, this time for a brace of sister ships for Oceania Cruises. Unlike the new MSC designs, these two vessels are reported to be another pair of sisters for that company’s first two, highly popular new builds, Marina and Riviera.

The Italian yard has been fantastically busy, and indeed it still is. As well as the above projected announcements, Fincantieri is also cutting the steel, ready for all four of the Lirica class lengthenings. Beginning at the end of the autumn, each ship will be cut in half, then have a new mid section inserted.

The yard is also in the process of putting the finishing touches to the rival Costa Cruises new flagship, the Costa Diadema, which is due to debut this coming November, and is also building the fourth, expanded Odyssey class ship for Seabourn, as well as the new Seven Seas Explorer for Regent Seven Seas, the first new ship for that line in more than a decade.

The yard has literally just delivered the second of class Regal Princess, and is working now on outfitting the Britannia for P&O Cruises, a vessel built to the same design. In addition, the yard is also building the 47,000 ton cruise ship, Viking Star, for Viking Cruises, and also two similar sized sister ships which have recently been confirmed.

This construction programme amounts to a quite astonishing coup for the Fincantieri yard. While the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean continue to favour the Meyer Werft yard at Papenburg for their new builds, and the once dominant shipyards of Finland seem to be floundering, it is the Italian yard that is picking up orders for a whole raft of diverse new cruise ship designs, ranging from the mass market to the ultra luxury products.

With an enviable record for delivering superb quality vessels, on time and within budgets, the dominance of Fincantieri as the world’s pre eminent builder of cruise ships seems assured, at least for the next few years.

As always, stay tuned.

LISBON; EUROPE’S MOST UNDER RATED CAPITAL

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Ask any seasoned traveller about Lisbon, and they will wax lyrical about the wonders of the majestic capital of Portugal. It has architecture every bit as opulent and grand as Paris, a nightlife that can easily rival anything in London, and beaches and a waterfront lifestyle that can stand toe to toe with anything in Barcelona. And yet, for some reason, the Portuguese capital wins none of the plaudits of those world famous banner cities.

I think that part of this is down to geographical location. Set on the most south western periphery of western Europe, Lisbon is the only capital city on the continent that actually faces directly out onto the Atlantic. It is closer to North Africa than it is to Scandinavia.

And yet, Lisbon begs your indulgence, with it’s graceful, flower filled squares flanked by majestic, colonnaded buildings. The winding, beguiling maze of the Alfama District, and the Barrio Alto, is a sinuous, sometimes maddening maze of cobbled streets, with houses painted in shades of terracotta, ochre and blue. Lines of washing flap lethargically between these rows of houses. Every so often, a bright yellow tram beetles gamely uphill, past gangs of old men playing chequers in the shade of cafes flanked by gnarled old trees. And from those Olympian heights of old Lisbon, the views right down to the sparkling, sun dappled expanse of the River Tagus are simply spellbinding.

In among the hustle and bustle of modern living, the past glories of this beguiling city litter the present like so many mouldering exclamation marks. From the squat, diminutive stance of the ancient, fourteenth century Belem Tower, still crouching gamely along the waterfront, to the sprawling, baronial splendour of Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon often feels like a city shrouded in the legacy of former times, when it was the capital city of one of the greatest seafaring empires in the world.

Lisbon tram

Lisbon tram

Built on seven hills and tumbling right down to the edge of the River Tagus, Lisbon is a city will surprise you when you least expect it. Check out the quirky, spindly steel edifice of Gustave Eiffel’s  (of  Eiffel Tower fame) steel elevator. Now more than a century old, it was built to link the waterfront level of the city with the streets above. Even now, it still works perfectly.

The mad, chaotic splay of Alfama finds an ordered, serene counter point in the formal Edward VII Gardens, near the main thoroughfare of Avenida da Liberdade. Named after the son of Queen Victoria, these constitute an amazingly symmetrical green lung for the city, and again they offer heart stopping views down to the Tagus down below.

Across the great river itself, there is a statue of Christ the Redeemer on the far side; an identical copy of the more famous one in Rio De Janeiro. Brazil was originally a colony of Portugal, and the links between the two countries still run very deep.

Spanning the river itself is the languid, graceful April 25th bridge, the mirror image of its much more famous twin in San Francisco. Coupled with the aforementioned Belem Tower and the more modern, waterfront memorial to Henry The Navigator, it gives the approach to Lisbon from the sea a stunning trio of instantly recognisable landmarks. Seen against the first rays of the rising sun, they serve as a fabulous appetiser to this dignified, almost dream like sea city.

Lisbon panorama, looking down to the River Tagus

Lisbon panorama, looking down to the River Tagus

Speaking of food, if ever a city had a sweet tooth, it is surely Lisbon. Try the local custard tarts, which are simply mouthwatering, or an ice cold bottle of the local Super Bock beer at some breezy waterfront cafe. If ever a city was meant for lounging, indulging the inner man or woman, or simply wandering round in a constant state of awed amazement, then Lisbon is surely it.

Highly recommended.

A ROYAL CARIBBEAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND LOST…

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

Will one of the Vision class ships be next to go?

Without doubt, no single cruise line has enjoyed the phenomenal growth trajectory of Royal Caribbean in the past few years. And, with a continuing conga line of new builds yet to come, that giddy momentum shows no signs of stalling.

As more and more incredible, amenity laden ships have come on line, there has been an inevitable shedding of the smaller, older ships that were the foundation blocks for the 21st century incarnation of Royal Caribbean. And, while the first of those ships have now sadly come to the end of their lives in foreign scrapyards, a number of those original, storied stalwarts are still out there, leading happy and profitable ‘after lives’ …..

SONG OF AMERICA (1982)

The first new build for Royal Caribbean in over a decade, the 38,000 ton Song Of America was the first ship in the company to have a full, wrap around Viking Crown lounge around the funnel, as well as the ‘cabins forward, public rooms aft’ layout which was then very popular in the cruise industry.

She was a stunning vessel, with acres of open deck space and large, twin pools. In her early years, the Song Of America ran on the popular, week long New York to Bermuda circuit. The ship was very popular for many years, and became a mainstay of the fleet.

Happily, she is still with us. After a few changes of owner, she is now sailing for Louis Cruises as the Louis Olympia. The ship-still immediately recognisable- runs three and four night cruises from the port of Piraeus, Athens, to the Greek Islands every week, from March through to November each year.

Sovereign Of The Seas

Sovereign Of The Seas

SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS (1988)

The original Royal Caribbean mega ship, Sovereign Of The Seas was the first of a 74,000 ton, French built trio that were the largest sister ships ever constructed at the time. Her impact was sensational, and her vast, five story Centrum Lobby was widely acclaimed at the time as the most sensational public space at sea.

Visually, the Sovereign Of The Seas was a vastly upscale version of the earlier Song Of America, and followed that ship in having the same arrangement of cabins in the forward part of the ship, while most of the public rooms were arranged in a kind of ‘layer cake’ in the aft part.

Originally, the Sovereign Of The Seas ran a series of hugely successful, seven night cruises out of Miami to the Caribbean. As new ships came on line in the 90’s, the ship was relegated to running three and four night cruises to the Bahamas out of Port Canaveral.

This ground breaking ship is still with us, sailing for Spanish cruise line, Pullmantur (a Royal Caribbean affiliate) as the simply renamed Sovereign. She now runs seven night cruises in the western Mediterranean out of Barcelona, and occasionally sails over to South America to offer winter cruises from Brazil. Ironically, like her former great rival, the SS. Norway, she now sports a stunning, royal blue hull.

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

NORDIC EMPRESS (1990)

Originally ordered for the soon to be defunct Admiral Cruises, but then purchased by Royal Caribbean on the slipway, the beautiful, 42,000 ton Nordic Empress was built in the same French shipyard as all three of her Sovereign class counterparts in the fleet.

Smaller and more intimate, the Nordic Empress operated for many years on the lucrative Bermuda circuit in summer; a run for which her smaller size made her perfect. Over the winter, she usually offered longer, in depth, ‘deep Caribbean’ cruises from Miami.

She was especially famed for her aft facing, three story high dining room, without doubt one of the most beautiful rooms ever to go to sea. After a spell of being restyled as the Empress Of The Seas, she also made the move over to Spanish subsidiary, Pullmantur.

Today, renamed as Empress, this still lovely ship sails in the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and occasionally in Northern Europe as well.

VIKING SERENADE (1990)

Possibly the quirkiest ship ever owned by Royal Caribbean, the Viking Serenade was actually built as the 24,000 ton Scandinavia,  a luxury passenger/car ferry, designed to run year round between New York and the Bahamas. Despite the high quality of the ship, the service never really worked out in practice. She came back to Europe for a time, but never really clicked there, either.

Royal Caribbean purchased her in 1990, and gave her an imaginative makeover. A Viking Crown lounge was cantilevered around the funnel, all the car carrying capacity was used for other purposes, and the entire ship was stylishly refurbished to Royal Caribbean standards.

As the Viking Serenade, she spent many profitable years, sailing on year round,  three and four night cruises from Los Angeles to Ensenada and Catalina Island. But she never quite came up to the standards of the rest of the fleet. In particular she had many small cabins, even by Royal Caribbean standards.

Sold to Island Cruises and later incorporated into the Thomson Cruises fleet, she sails on as the budget cruise ship, Island Escape. At one time, she also offered a winter season from Brazil, but now sails almost exclusively on seven night, destination intensive Mediterranean itineraries. A recent refurbishment added some balcony cabins to parts of the ship, in order to increase her viability. She remains a popular, high density staple of the UK cruising market.

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

Entrance lobby on Majesty Of The Seas

MONARCH OF THE SEAS (1992)

Delivered from France in 1992, the 74,000 ton Monarch Of The Seas was the second of the three ship, Sovereign class trio that marked the beginning of the dramatic expansion of Royal Caribbean as a major player. She, too, became a spectacular and successful staple of the seven night Caribbean circuit, sailing from Miami and, later, from Puerto Rico.

Like her two sisters, the Monarch Of The Seas was updated with the addition of some sixty two balcony suites and cabins. She then went round to Los Angeles, from where she sailed fora few years on three and four night cruises to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. Subsequently, she returned via Panama to Port Canaveral, from where she operated similar, short three and four night Bahamas cruises until April, 2013.

Renamed as Monarch, she also made the transition over to Pullmantur Cruises. Now painted in the same deep, royal blue paint scheme as the rest of the fleet, she sails year round, seven night Caribbean cruises from Aruba, an obvious and telling echo of her original employment with Royal Caribbean.

So, there you have it. I hope this little voyage into the past has brought back some memories and, hopefully, provided some inspiration for those that might have missed these five, fine vessels the first time around. They are still sailing and- in the immortal words of Royal Caribbean itself- my advice is; get out there.

Happy sailing!

HAL DUO OFF TO P&O AUSTRALIA NEXT YEAR

Holland America is increasingly upgrading to mega ships such as the Westerdam

Holland America is increasingly upgrading to mega ships such as the Westerdam

Holland America Cruises has announced the transfer of two of the smallest ships in its fleet- the still substantial, 50,000 ton sister ships, Statendam and Ryndam- to fellow Carnival Corporation affiliate, P&O Cruises Australia. The two vessels will join the Australian operation in November, 2015.

It is being stressed that the two ships are not, in any way, replacements for any of the current P&O Australia trio- Pacific Dawn, Pacific Pearl and Pacific Jewel. With the numbers of Australian cruisers expected to climb to over a million by 2016, a five ship fleet is viewed by the company as a realistic venture.

The two ships join an already impressive roster of Carnival tonnage ‘down under; including the Sapphire Princess and Carnival Spirit. A second Carnival ship- Carnival Legend- will sail from Tampa in August to further boost capacity out of Sydney.

Statendam joined the Holland America fleet in 1992 as the first of a similar, four ship class. Sister ship, Ryndam, has for many years been a popular mainstay on the ex- UK cruise circuit, offering summer cruises to the Fjords and Scandinavia out of Dover. It is not clear yet if she will be replaced by another vessel in the seasonal British market.

Of the other two- which must surely now also be on borrowed time as HAL members- the 1993 built Maasdam offers summer cruises along the eastern seaboard of the USA. Meanwhile, the fourth ship- Veendam- will resume some week long Bermuda sailings from Boston for Holland America in the summer of 2015.

The ability to redistribute tonnage for HAL arises as a result of the coming February, 2016 debut of the new, Project Pinnacle class ship to the line. At 100,000 tons and with a capacity for some 2,660 passengers, the as yet nameless new ship will more than replace the capacity of Statendam and Ryndam at a single stroke.

The arrival of the four Statendam class ships marked a major expansion for Holland America at the start of the 1990s, and preceded the takeover of the line by Carnival Corporation by a full five years.

Beyond those four ships, the line has steadily expanded into operating highly styled mega ships such as the four ship, Oosterdam class, as well as the mid sized braces, Volendam and Zaandam , and  Rotterdam/Amsterdam.

Smaller and older still, the 1989 built Prinsendam, known as the company’s ‘Elegant Explorer; continues to remain as a staple of the Holland America Line fleet for the present, despite being consistently linked with companies such as Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and, more recently, the German owned Phoenix Seereisen.

For further developments, please stay tuned.