REMEMBERING COSTA ALLEGRA

Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

Costa Allegra was one of the most interesting ships I’ve ever sailed on. Originally built as a container ship- the Annie Johnson- back in Finland in 1969, she was acquired by Costa and completely rebuilt as a cruise ship, returning to service in November of 1992.

It was that combination of obvious container ship hull with the commodious trappings of a modern cruise ship that made her so beguiling. Something about her always felt slightly out of kilter. Defining exactly what is as pointless and maddening as trying to nail a cloud to the ground.

The conversion was a brilliant one, and she and her sister, the rebuilt Costa Marina, the ex Axel Johnson, made for quite a pair. In fact, the Allegra differed from her sister; she was lengthened by around forty feet, and her original engines were replaced with new diesels.

They both had the boxy, conventional hull of their container ship origins, with an almost flush decked superstructure that terminated in a wall of glass, three storeys high, at the stern. This was, in fact, the back of the main restaurant, and it is a feature much copied since on many bigger ships. Both ships introduced the triple grouping of aft place funnel structures that was to become the Costa corporate logo, at least until the Carnival takeover; the same design was deliberately incorporated into the three bigger, pre Carnival new builds; Costa Classica, Costa Romantica, and Costa Victoria.

In those days, Costa was still an Italian company in spirit and execution, as well as in name. The interiors of the Costa Allegra reflected the brilliance of Italian interior design; there was a casual, spectacular use of carrara marble throughout the interiors, with much use of glass ceilings and walls to allow natural light to suffuse the ship. Beautiful paintings and random, elegant statuary scattered around the ship gave her a rich, Fellini-esque feel that was a million miles removed from the current line of Farcusian interiors showcased by the current Costa ships. Make no mistake; the Costa Allegra looked and felt a million miles removed from those vessels.

Of course, a lot of that was down to her smaller, far more intimate size. Costa Allegra displaced around 28,500 tons, and had a lower berth capacity of some 820 passengers, based on twin occupancy. These were accommodated in 399 cabins. Ten of the thirteen suites boasted the only private balconies on board.

Interestingly, the inside and outside cabins were of almost identical dimensions, at around 140 square feet each. The Costa Allegra had a vast, central sun deck with a pool and a couple of Jacuzzis. Sunning space stretched, quite literally, right to the stern, where another smaller pool was located.

She was a supremely comfortable, indolent ship for sure. But the Costa Allegra was also something of a snappy roller; I often thought that she would have rolled on damp grass.

Service was smart, polished and generally very attentive. I recall the food as veering towards excellent at times.

The loss of both ships was inevitable in light of the Carnival take over. Following a much publicised power loss near the Seychelles after an on board fire, the proud Costa Allegra suffered the humiliation of having to be towed to safety. This, coming only weeks after the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, helped to seal her fate. After twenty years of sterling service in her second, very unlikely role, the Costa Allegra was scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey in late 2012.

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ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY PART TWO

This is another selection of photos taken on board the Athena in 2010. Enjoy!

Main lounge on the Athena

Main lounge on the Athena

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

A beautiful ship in her natural element

A beautiful ship in her natural element

The view through my cabin porthole

The view through my cabin porthole

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

The stern sponson, added for stability

The stern sponson, added for stability

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Spilt, seen through the round window

Spilt, seen through the round window

ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY

Since the news came that Cruise And Maritime Voyages is to charter the 1948 built Azores from Portsucale Cruises for a full season of ex-UK cruises in 2015, I thought I’d put together some photos, taken aboard her in September, 2010. At that time, she was sailing as the Athena for the now sadly defunct Classic International Cruises. I enjoyed a fabulous, early autumn swing aboard her, through the highlights of Croatia and Montenegro, on a week long round trip out of Venice. This really is one of the last, old school cruise ships still out there. I hope you enjoy these pictures of this charismatic, pretty little ship as much as I enjoyed sailing on her.

Captain's Lounge on board the Athena

Captain’s Lounge on board the Athena

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Upper deck walkways

Upper deck walkways

Lido and stern walkway

Lido and stern walkway

Athena three quarter shot

Athena three quarter shot

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Stern walkway at sunset

Stern walkway at sunset

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The silhouette is still quite stunning

The silhouette is still quite stunning

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Close up of the name and hull plating

Close up of the name and hull plating

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Main staircase and light fixture

Main staircase and light fixture

PRINCESS DANAE PHOTO ESSAY

The photos you’re about to see capture scenes from on board what is, in effect, a floating time capsule. They were taken aboard the Princess Danae of Classic International Cruises on a cruise from Rhodes through to Piraeus in the early Autumn of 2009.

The sun at that time of year casts a wistful, almost melancholy light on the waters of the Aegean. And there, you’ll see it throw parts of this venerable, 1954 built ship, with her riveted hull, into amazing relief.

As of now, the ship, now owned by Portuscale Cruises and renamed Lisboa, is part way through an extensive, presently suspended refit in Lisbon. 

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

Broadside view, Rhodes harbour

Broadside view, Rhodes harbour

At sea, looking forward from the stern

At sea, looking forward from the stern

Long, narrow outdoor promenade

Long, narrow outdoor promenade

Looking aft at the pool deck

Looking aft at the pool deck

Shaded lido buffet area

Shaded lido buffet area

View from upper terrace out over stern

View from upper terrace out over stern

Port side boat deck, facing the stern

Port side boat deck, facing the stern

Looking forward, from fantail to funnel

Looking forward, from fantail to funnel

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Wicker furniture is just right on a ship like this

Wicker furniture is just right on a ship like this

Pool and lido

Pool and lido

Twilight on the dreamlike Aegean....

Twilight on the dreamlike Aegean….

Lido lounge and funnel at night

Lido lounge and funnel at night

Inside the lido pool lounge

Inside the lido pool lounge

Main bar on board the Princess Danae

Main bar on board the Princess Danae

The show lounge, sited amidships

The show lounge, sited amidships

Side view of show lounge, looking forward

Side view of show lounge, looking forward

Lounge bat, Princess Danae

Lounge bar, Princess Danae

The beautiful, riveted bow

The beautiful, riveted bow

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

Princess Danae alongside at Kusadasi

Princess Danae bow shot

Princess Danae bow shot

Starboard side shot of hull and superstructure

Starboard side shot of hull and superstructure

Funnel with the old CIC logo

Funnel with the old CIC logo

Interior of my suite- very fifties retro

Interior of my suite- very fifties retro

View aft from starboard side bridge wing

View aft from starboard side bridge wing

Bridge telegraph on the Princess Danae

Bridge telegraph on the Princess Danae

Same bridge shot, very different light

Same bridge shot, very different light

 

THE JUMBO JET- 1500 NOT OUT

A British Airways Jumbo Jet on the tarmac at Singapore's Changi Airport.

A British Airways Jumbo Jet on the tarmac at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Today marks one of the most auspicious landmarks in the history of commercial aviation. Today, Boeing’s Seattle factory rolled out the 1,500th production model of the most successful airliner in travel history- the Boeing 747, usually known as the Jumbo Jet.

The first production model of the plane was  delivered as far back as 1968. With it’s four engines and distinctive, dolphin styled silhouette, the Jumbo Jet became the backbone of the world’s aviation network almost overnight. Not until 2008 was its size exceeded in commercial service by the rival Airbus A380- itself ironically nicknamed the ‘Super Jumbo’ in many quarters.

This most recent 747 has been delivered to the German national carrier, Lufthansa. But, despite the plane’s extraordinary longevity, it now seems obvious that this recent delivery might be one of the last of the type.

Simply put, the 747 is gradually succumbing to more advanced, cost effective rivals. In general, the days of large, four engine jets is coming to a close, with the exception of the A380 and it’s smaller fleet mate, the A34o. Twin engine rivals such as the A330 and, ironically, the Boeing 777 and even the new 787 Dreamliner, are now seen as being very much in the ascendant.

Whether or not you are a fan of mass market air travel, it has to be conceded that the 747 has had a truly amazing safety record. Only twenty two of the planes in all have come to grief, some of these on the ground.

Probably the two most famous incidents were the infamous collision on the ground at Tenerife between a 747 belonging to Pan American, and another owned by the Dutch carrier, KLM, in March of 1977. The resulting, horrific fireball killed a total of 583 passengers and crew across the two flights.

More notorious still was the bomb induced destruction of another Pan American Jumbo, Flight 103, above the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21st, 1988. The circumstances behind that bombing- which resulted in some 270 fatalities on the flight-remain controversial to this day.

That accident went a long way towards finishing off Pan American, one of the most famous names in aviation history.

The 747 was the plane used to introduce the transatlantic services of the fledgling Virgin Atlantic and, despite the move towards the newer, more technically advanced jets being produced both by Airbus and Boeing itself, the 747 still remain a mainstay of airlines such as British Airways and KLM. The latter airline uses a number of these in a joint passenger/cargo role, mainly on routes to and from Amsterdam to the Far East.

Love it or loathe it, this extraordinary airplane has proven to be a true survivor. The aviation world will surely be a sadder place without it.

CMV CHARTERS PORTUSCALE VETERAN FOR 2015 SEASON

Upper deck terraces of the Azores

Upper deck terraces of the Azores

It has been announced today that Cruise and Maritime Voyages will charter the 550 passenger MV Azores from Portuscale Cruises as a replacement for the 1972-built Discovery, one of the original ‘Love Boats’ from the popular seventies television series.

Effective from January of 2015, the Azores will sail year round from Bristol on a series of as yet unspecified itineraries.

In any event, this deal looks good for both lines. Portuscale, still a relatively fledgling operation beginning to find its way, gets a substantial cash infusion, as well as gainful employment for its biggest ship guaranteed for a full year at least.

For CMV, the Azores is an excellent choice to replace Discovery. The latter ship is being put up for sale by her actual owners, All Leisure Group. 

With a capacity of 550 passengers, the Azores is, ironically, far older than the ship she will replace. Built in 1948 as the Swedish American Lines’ Stockholm, she became infamous for the July, 1956 collision off Nantucket that resulted in the sinking of the Andrea Doria. 

The ship was stripped mostly down to her riveted hull in the early nineties, and extensively rebuilt as a small, but very comfortable cruise ship. Though her passenger capacity of 550 is a few hundred less than that of Discovery, the extent of her rebuild ironically makes her a far more contemporary ship. The main dining room, located low in the hull in the old transatlantic tradition, has rows of double height portholes down both sides, and even some of the original Swedish American ice buckets still on board.

Cabins aboard the Azores include a set of spacious, upper deck midship, two room suites with balconies, and some exceptionally spacious rooms across most grades.

There is no alternative restaurant on board the Azores; but the ship has extensive deck space, including some very well designed terraces,and even an old style walkway that totally circles the stern itself.

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern walkway on the Azores

As for the Discovery herself, there has been no word as of yet what her fate might be. All Leisure did have her listed for sale at around five million dollars. Her twin sister ship, the former Pacific Princess, went to the breakers last year after several years’ lay up in Genoa.

This does not mean that Discovery will necessarily suffer a similar fate; she is in far better condition than her late sister ship was at that stage. All the same, many in the maritime community will once more be mentally bracing themselves for the potential loss of yet another classic ship to the insatiable breakers yards of Turkey and India.

As always, stay tuned.

EGYPT; SAFE TO TRAVEL?

Temple of Philae, Aswan

Temple of Philae, Aswan

The slow trickle of tourists back to Egypt is hugely welcome in a country where the great bulk of the economy is dependent on tourism. But then, just as a few more river boats started plying the ancient waterways of the Nile, the Egyptian government puts the skids under the whole industry with a series of actions that are inexplicable to most western minds.

Mass death sentences, not to mention the bizarre imprisonment of a trio of Al-Jazeera journalists simply for doing their job, has cast the new, military government of General Sisi in a particularly baleful light. At the very least, this looks like a brutal, knee jerk reaction that could potentially impact the tourism trade right when it is at it’s most vulnerable.

That said, the main concerns that travellers in general are raising right now is, quite simply; Is Egypt safe? 

Here’s some general observations of mine, based on a week long cruise I did down the Nile in late March of this year.

Firstly, at the airports, and at all stops along our route, there was a conspicuous, highly visible presence of both the police,  and the Egyptian military. At no time during my week in Egypt did I feel anything but totally safe and at ease.

Naturally, this high profile presence is intended to reassure foreigners visiting the country. With so much of Egypt’s GDP deriving directly from tourism, the country simply cannot afford to appear complacent in any respect.

Cruising the timeless Nile

Cruising the timeless Nile

The security did not only apply to the obvious, headline tourist sites. Roads leading to and from airports, and strategic crossroads in all the main times, had a permanent presence of military, police, or even both.

Of course, the levels of begging are another matter, and long since a bane of any holiday to Egypt. It is now so intense that many shopkeepers are actually doing themselves out of potential sales with their relentless attempts at pleading and selling by turns.

It has to be understood that this comes from a place of total financial desperation. When the tourist trade to Egypt collapsed, so did the incomes of literally millions of ordinary people. Never millionaires at the best of times, the straits that these poor people find themselves in staggers belief.

But it has to be stressed that this is more annoying than threatening. If, like me, you have always wanted to see the fabled treasures and mind boggling monuments of this storied land, then there has probably never been a better time to do so than right now.

Tourist numbers are right down, so seeing the sights is easier than ever. The weather is great and yes, you are safe when you go there.

And I very much doubt you will regret such a trip. Enjoy.

Sunset over Kom Ombo

Sunset over Kom Ombo

 

ETIHAD THROWS ALITALIA A LIFELINE

Did Etihad just throw Alitalia a lifeline?

Did Etihad just throw Alitalia a lifeline?

Alitalia, the problem plagued national air carrier of Italy, has just been thrown a massive lifeline by the Abu Dhabi based Middle Eastern mega carrier, Etihad Airways. 

The deal itself is still subject to final regulatory approval. If approved, it would give Etihad a whopping forty nine per cent stake in the Italian carrier.

Sources in the current Italian government announced last month that Etihad was looking to invest some 560 million euros in the problem plagued airline now, and a further sum of 600 million euros over the next few years.

If this is the case, it would represent the largest single investment from the Middle East carrier in any other airline, and is quite an act of faith in itself. It also presages a period of massive retrenchment and inevitable job losses at Alitalia. Total redundancies are expected to be around 2,250 people, paring down the Alitalia organisation to a new strength of 11,500 staff.

As the nineteenth largest air passenger carrier in the world, Alitalia is part of the One World Alliance.

BYE BYE IBEROCRUISES- SPANISH LINE TO BE ‘INTEGRATED’ INTO COSTA (UPDATED)

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

As previously rumoured on this blog, it has now been confirmed that Iberocruises, the Spanish cruise subsidiary of Costa Cruises, will be fully integrated into the Italian Carnival affiliate as of next year.

The Spanish cruise operation- once so buoyant- has been on borrowed time since the local cruise market went bows down in the wake of massive austerity cuts inflicted across the entire Iberian peninsula. The first signs of enforced retrenchment came when the company’s most prestigious ship- Grand Mistral– was hived off to Costa and refashioned as the Costa NeoRiviera.

Then, early last year, the Spanish offices of both cruise products were brought together for the local market.

Next, a recently completed, 4.5 million euro refit of the Grand Celebration was followed with the announcement that she, too, would transfer over to Costa this winter, after completing one last season under the Iberocruises banner. She will be restyled as the Costa Celebration, although no new deployments have been announced for the ship at present.

That left just the Grand Holiday- sister ship of Grand Celebration- as the last remaining vessel sailing for the Spanish operator. It was pretty apparent to most that a one ship line was not long for this world.

Costa CEO, Michael Thamm, apparently announced last month that Iberocruises would be taken off life support, and integrated fully into Costa. I, for one, completely missed this. A spokesman for the Italian juggernaut- itself due to launch a new, largest ever flagship in the shape of the Costa Diadema this November- has since said that ‘a plan’ exists for the future of the Grand Holiday.

Whether that ‘plan’ is as part of the Costa brand remains to be seen.

On the face of it, the two sister ships- both built for Carnival in the mid eighties- seem an odd fit in the Costa fleet. True, they are compatible in terms of size with the handful of smaller Costa ships, but they lack the balconies and extra dining facilities of even those.

It also has to be said that they do not look so good against the vessels of prime rival, MSC Cruises. That line is about to embark on a lengthening and enhancement programme of all four of its smallest ships, designed to significantly enhance their appeal in terms of both accommodation and amenities. And it must be borne in mind that all four of those ships are considerably younger than the two Iberocruises refugees being offloaded onto Costa.

The obvious solution would be to absorb the two ships- along with the Costa Classica- into the NeoCollection offshoot that already boasts both Costa NeoRomantica and Costa NeoRiviera. This product is an attempt to get back to something of the original Costa roots, by providing smaller, more intimate ships that offer an experience built around longer port visits, more in depth itineraries, and excellent local and regional cuisine.

So far, so good. But the question here is whether that still fledgling operation would absorb this three tiered influx profitably in the present, still depressed climate. It seems unlikely at the present time.

In any event, it’s goodbye to Iberocruises at the end of this year. Here’s hoping that the plan Costa has for those last two ships is, indeed, a viable one. No one wants to see more eighties tonnage on the beaches of Alang or Aliaga.

As always, stay tuned.

 

UPDATE: Carnival’s Arnold Donald has announced today that the Grand Holiday will leave the Carnival fleet entirely at the end of the year. No buyer has been announced for the 1985 built ship as yet.

 

MONACO FROM A HOT TUB- PICTORIAL SHOTS

For various reasons, Monte Carlo is one of those places that figure high on the must see lists of many people. It has glitz, glamour, the Grand Prix, and, er….

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I am not a fan of the place. To me, it’s a pretentious, hideously over priced place full of preening wannabes; a vastly over rated town where people go to be seen, rather than to actually see anything of note.

There are far prettier places along the amazing, sinuous curve of the French Riviera that have twice the style, and much less of the bombastic hype.

That said, no one can deny that, for all it’s brittle glamour, Monte Carlo is quite a sight.

These shots constitute my favourite views of Monte Carlo. Most were taken from a hot tub aboard Regent Seven Seas’ lavishly appointed flagship, Seven Seas Voyager. Here, armed with nothing more glittery than a camera and a readily refilled champagne glass, I present an offshore take on what remains, for many, a ‘must do’ on the travel map.

Ladies and gentlemen; mesdames et messieurs; I give you- Monte Carlo from a hot tub….

Early morning Monaco...

Early morning Monaco…

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Looking from ship to shore

Looking from ship to shore

The harbour is truly spectacular

The harbour is truly spectacular

Looking back to the hillsides

Looking back to the hillsides

Yachts in shot...

Yachts in shot…

And more yachts...

And more yachts…

This one is more class than crass

This one is more class than crass

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Better afternoon light...

Better afternoon light…

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Very Sixties architecture here

Very Sixties architecture here

Shore from ship....

Shore from ship….

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sometimes it's just nicer staying on board

Sometimes it’s just nicer staying on board