Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

Majesty Of The Seas at Coco Cay, Bahamas

In a move that will surprise few, if any, Royal Caribbean has finally announced the transfer of it’s final first generation mega ship, Majesty Of The Seas, to the Spanish brand, Pullmantur. The ship will conclude a final, three night Bahamas sailing on May 2nd, 2016.

Following this, she will be dry docked before rejoining her two former sisters and fleet mates, Sovereign and Monarch. The trio will form the backbone of Pullmantur’s increasing attempt to attract the lucrative Latin market and, though no formal deployment has yet been announced, it seems likely that the ship will go to the Caribbean.

Built in 1992 and with a lower berth capacity of 2,350 passengers, the 74,000 ton Majesty Of The Seas has been a staple on the short Bahamas cruise run out of Miami for several years.

So far, no replacement has been announced for the short cruises that she currently operates.

As always, stay tuned.


Pool and sun deck on the MS Mayfair

Pool and sun deck on the MS Mayfair

I boarded the deluxe MS Mayfair in Luxor at the start of a four night Nile cruise, after a late night Egyptair flight from the UK. First impressions were of a vast, spacious lobby, with a gorgeous spiral staircase that led up to a kind of viewing gallery filled with plush, overstuffed sofas and chairs flanked by floor to ceiling picture windows. From stem to stern, the boat was immaculate.

Just aft of this was a large main lounge with a bar set against the back wall. On either side, sliding doors led onto partial promenades that overlooked the Nile. Beautifully furnished and expansive, both are oddly aimed at smokers. Surely one of them could be made non smoking?

One level up is the boat’s absolute crowning glory; the bow to stern sun deck. There is an upper deck bar, a forward facing pool, and a pair of centrally sited hot tubs that proved ideal for languid afternoons spent cruising along Egypt’s fabled, ancient waterway. Along both sides, rows of four poster beds with slatted roofs provided a comfort factor seen on few mainstream cruise ships. Cushioned sun beds and wooden loungers were in plentiful supply, with small groups of tables and chairs sprinkled in between the canopied grassy areas. Plants fringed the edge of this deck, and the sum total was an area totally hazardous to activity of any serious kind.

Afternoon tea was served here at five o’clock every day. With a decent selection of free cakes, salt scones and cookies, it was quite something to just linger up here and watch the blood red sun sag behind the date palms.

Down one level from the lobby, the main dining room spanned the whole width of the ship. And, while breakfast was a buffet affair, a set lunch was waiter service at tables, course by course. Dinner- which offered a choice of two main courses each night- was ordered during lunchtime. For both lunch and dinner, desserts were self service from the central buffet, with tea and coffee served at table.

Food as a whole was actually very good indeed; the fruits and breads in particular always outstanding. Service throughout the boat was deft and attentive- there always seemed to be plenty of wait staff on hand right through the day and night.

The ship features two deluxe suites, and generous sized, all outside cabins that are actually more comfortable than those on many cruise ships. Intelligent design and classy application of dark colours and neutral lighting makes them appear bigger than they actually are- a neat touch.

Spiral staircase on MS Mayfair

Spiral staircase on MS Mayfair

Most cabins feature Juliet balconies, but mine- right forward on three deck- actually had a small balcony that curved inwards, towards the bow. Truth be told, this was actually more of a ledge, as you could not sit and face outward. Two cane chairs and a small, round table filled the space. I got round this by putting the table inside, just beyond the sliding doors, and put my drinks on there. From this small, spectacular vantage point, I savoured some of the most magnificent, spellbinding scenery anywhere on Planet Earth.

There was a plasma screen TV, but it almost always seemed to have no signal. No biggie, that; the really compelling viewing is right outside your windows.

The double bed was deep, warm and gifted me some sound, quality sleep. There is also a kettle, plus tea and coffee, even if you do have to really hunt for a socket to plug it in. A fridge and a couple of comfy chairs filled out the lounging side quite nicely, thank you. I should also mention that the floor to ceiling drapes were excellent at keeping the room cool, dark when necessary, and mercifully mosquito free as well.

A decent sized bathroom featured a nice bath/shower combo with rain head shower,  a slatted wooden floor and good size, fine quality towels in plentiful supply. There was also a hair dryer for those that wanted it (I didn’t) and good quality, Elemis toiletries. And a waffle bathrobe was a very welcome little surprise as well.

Storage space was more than decent, with a trio of wardrobes adjacent to the bathroom door. Oddly, these had glass fronted doors that made them look more like display cabinets, but there was plenty of room. There was also an in room safe located here.

All things considered, the MS Mayfair really is a very fine five star boat. Beautifully decorated, well served and very spacious, she elevates the experience of sailing the Nile into an elegant adventure all of it’s own. Highly recommended.

This trip was organised for me courtesy of the lovely people at Orbital Travel UK. The website:

Juliet balcony cabins on the MS Mayfair afford fantastic views over the Nile

Juliet balcony cabins on the Nile river boats afford fantastic views of the scenery


Celestyal is going to a three ship fleet as of May, 2015....

Celestyal is going to a three ship fleet as of May, 2015….

In a move that has been expected for some time, Celestyal Cruises- the new, more diversified offshoot of Louis Cruises- has acquired a third vessel to operate alongside Celestyal Cristal and Celestyal Olympia next year.

The niche, small ship Aegean specialist has taken on a three year charter of the Explorer, one of a pair of 24,000 ton, 590 foot long sisters originally built in Germany for the now defunct Royal Olympic Cruises at the start of the 21st century. At the time, these two ships were billed as being among the fastest cruise ships in the world, with speeds of around 28 knots.

For several years, the 2001 built ship- soon to be renamed Celestyal Explorer- has been operating on world wide itineraries as a floating semester ship. She will return to the Aegean under her new name in May, 2015. At this time, no itineraries or durations for the ‘new’ ship have yet been announced.

As built, the ship had a high passenger capacity of 846 passengers. Both sister ships were noted at the time for their long, low hulls and sleek, yacht like exteriors.

Her sister ship, recently sailing for Costa, was running a programme of Red Sea cruises that were abruptly curtailed this winter. She has now been sold to Chinese concerns.

Check back here for more details on the Celestyal Explorer as they become available.


Six years in Dubai...

Six years in Dubai…

I had not intended to write this piece at all, to be honest. With no new information to share about our beloved QE2, I did not want to either raise false hopes, fly potentially dodgy kites or- if I’m plain honest- depress myself thinking about the last six years.

But if I wanted to leave the story, it did not intend to leave me. Just as always during her long, happy life, the QE2 was never far from my thoughts. And today, of all days, please permit me the indulgence of sharing my own, personal take on how things stand.

I have always had grave misgivings about the intentions of those ‘gentlemen’ in Dubai, right from the moment that I first read the ‘glass funnel’ idea. As their original plans to mutilate the great lady surfaced like some crack addled Kraaken, I got more and more angry. Hell, why not just buy the Mona Lisa instead, and paint a moustache on it?

This intended vandalism gradually subsided beneath a veil of discreet, uneasy silence, garnished with occasional fantastic pronouncements and served up with a side order of incredible lies. Promised reactivation dates came and went; progress reports- scant and intermittent- had all the credibility of a chocolate fire guard. With each passing day, my heart sank just that little more.

These days, I perceive our much loved lady of the seas as a kind of mummified deity; still coated in the royal colours of Cunard, stuck like some splendid, petrified goddess in the midst of a steel, concrete and sand sarcophagus. The accrued dirt cannot take her dignity away, but the pitiless sun does her no favours, either. She seems alone and in a state of quiet despair. The life, light and joy has been siphoned out of her bit by bit, and those responsible simply do not seem to care.

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand that the crash of 2008 completely changed the game for the new Dubai owners. But that was then, and this is now. We are expected to applaud and show amazement at the string of new building projects (including an entire new international airport) that will sprout like so much pre pubescent acne across it’s precocious, chubby little face. All while QE2 sits, withers, and slowly suffocates, an unwanted toy cast aside with a callous shrug.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t jump on that particular band wagon, I hope.

Six years on, I still want to hope for a better future for QE2. I was heartened immensely by the lavish. loving restoration of the fabled Rotterdam. The return of that legendary ship to the port of her birth was tear inducing stuff, beautiful and life affirming.

But Rotterdam was- indeed is- beloved by those who fought tooth and nail to save her in the face of almost insuperable odds. Their sheer, dogged determination is a million miles removed from the brash, bile inducing, cavalier way in which the ‘great and good’ of Dubai have left QE2 to wither on the vine.

They first have to possess the will and the guile to save her. In six years, I am afraid I have seen no evidence of either.

God knows, I wish I was wrong. Truly, really, God Save the Queen.

Because the burghers of Dubai sure as hell will not.


Adios to Deutschland?

Adios to Deutschland?

In a move that will surprise few in the cruise industry. German niche travel company, Peter Deilmann has finally been forced to end ocean cruise operations. The upshot is that the line’s sole vessel- the exquisite, 22,000 ton Deutschland- is now up for sale.

Two different buyers are said to be in the frame in relation to taking the ship on, but it is quite a conundrum to see where she might best fit. Deutschland was created as a labour of love by the late Peter Deilmann himself; her design and execution was a conscious attempt to recreate the late 19th/early 20th century opulence of such fabled Atlantic ‘fliers’ as the Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse and Kronprinz Wilhelem.

Herr Deilmann certainly succeeded in that respect. The Deutschland is a riot of Victorian era opulence, with huge chandeliers and ornate statuary, framed by gilded balustrades and deep, rich carpeting sprinkled with Louis XVI furnishings. The ship is like a little Faberge Egg wrapped in a trim, snow white hull. A jaw dropping little jewel box of exquisite proportions.

Alas, that may be the biggest problem now…

Artwork throughout the ship is beautiful and impressive everywhere

Artwork throughout the ship is beautiful and impressive everywhere

With such a purpose designed interior theme, Deutschland might well be way too ‘over the top’ for traditional operators of small ships such as Louis. Her interiors could, in theory, be gutted and rebuilt, but that would constitute a hideously expensive, time consuming act of pure cultural vandalism. Who would want to attract that kind of negative PR?

And the cabins, while sumptuous, are small, Only one owner’s suite comes with it’s own private terrace, though some Juliet balconies were grafted onto the ship during a refit a year or so ago. With a passenger capacity of around 550, Deutschland is a high maintenance lady.

It is conceivable that another German company- perhaps Phoenix Seereisen or even Hapag Lloyd Cruises might take her on. It seems unlikely that any British company would be in a position- or even be prepared- to take on such a on obvious piece of retrospective Teutonic sentiment.

In any event, it is to be hoped that this still relatively young ship- Deutschland was built only in 1996- finds gainful employment with an operator that cherishes her quite unique, wonderfully quirky traits. I have seldom dined as well anywhere as I did during a four day jaunt aboard the Deutschland in 2008. The ship boasts no less than four sumptuous dining rooms. And, in connection with her, it really is safe to say that she is totally unique in the cruise market.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one. As ever, stay tuned.

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland


MV Azores, seen on her Athena livery in 2010

MV Azores, seen on her Athena livery in 2010

With the recent announcement of their acquisition of a new flagship- in the shape of the 46,000 ton Magellan- Cruise and Maritime Voyages has been shuffling the deck chairs with regard to their 2015 itineraries.

For the first time ever, the line is offering a short season of dedicated, Mediterranean fly-cruises during the autumn, using the intimate, 550 passenger Azores. The 16,000 ton ship, chartered from Portuscale Cruises, will offer a series of five fly cruises, inclusive of one voyage that embarks in Bristol and ends with a flight from Genoa to the UK.

This marks the first real range of Mediterranean cruises offered by the line. Hitherto, the ships in the fleet have concentrated on itineraries in northern and western Europe, Scandinavia and northern Norway, together with long, exotic winter runs to the Amazon and Caribbean.

The choice of Azores for this programme of cruises is pretty shrewd; the ship- formerly the Stockholm of Swedish American Line- is the ideal size for cruising the waters of the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. She can quite easily access the wide range of smaller, more appealing ports that the larger ships must bypass. At the same time, the ship has a broad, open amount of sun bathing space, as well as a brace of beautiful, two room terrace suites located midships on the upper deck.

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby of the Azores

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby of the Azores

The Azores programme begins with a nine night sailing from at  Bristol on September 8th, calling at La Coruna, Leixoes (for Porto), Lisbon, Gibraltar and Malaga, before passengers fly home from Genoa.

There follows an eleven night fly/cruise from Genoa on September 17th, calling at Civitavecchia for Rome, Santorini, Mykonos, Kusadasi for Ephesus, Samos, Piraeus, Katakolon, Corfu and Korcula, before ending with an overnight stay in Venice. This cruise also repeats on October 9th.

These two itineraries are also followed in reverse, with departures from Venice for Genoa on 28th September and 20th October, respectively.

Fares for the nine night repositioning cruise start from £689 pp based on two people sharing, if booked prior to December 12th.

The eleven night fly cruises cost from £999 pp, also based on twin occupancy.

All things considered, this short programme allows passengers to see an appealing mix of ‘greatest hits’ ports as well as smaller, more laid back ports of call at a time of year when the weather should still be agreeably mellow and pleasant. Factor in the intimate scale of the Azores herself, and I suspect that these fly/cruises will sell quite well.

Lido and stern walkway on Azores

Lido and stern walkway on Azores

As always, stay tuned for any further developments.


Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

Black Watch in the Kiel Canal

I had last sailed on Fred Olsen’s beautiful Black Watch back in 2004, so when the chance came to visit the classically styled cruise ship at Newcastle’s port of North Shields a few weeks ago, I needed no persuasion at all. She is a ship that holds a lot of good memories for me.

Still, ten years is a long time, and the 1972 built ship is getting no younger. Black Watch is one of that dwindling band of totemic ships that is sold on a somewhat unique gimmick in the cruising firmament; that of being a ship that actually looks and feels like a ship. Broad wooden decks, long open promenades, a gorgeous raked prow and a single, proud funnel. It’s all there.

In this day and age, is that enough, you might ask?

Well, for a certain type of passenger, the answer is still, happily, a resounding yes.

Black Watch looked resplendent in the mid October sunshine as she sat alongside the quay. The 28,000 ton, 900 passenger ship was in the middle of a turn around, ready to embark passengers on the second last of her part season of cruises from the Tyne. The ship was imminently bound for a refit in Hamburg, and preparations for the work to be carried out was already evident in certain parts of the ship.

Fred. Olsen has always been big on the meticulous appearance of it’s quartet of ships. Black Watch, shaded in pristine bridal white, was a glorious revelation when we first saw her. Once on board, the feeling of elegant, open ease of access came back to greet me like a long lost friend. Special and expansive, and with many public areas flanked by rows of floor to ceiling windows, this is still a ship that lends herself to ease and relaxation from bow to stern.

New to the ship- and soon to be added to her trio of siblings- is a gorgeous, on board coffee and chocolate bar, carved out of the area that once held the ship’s overly expansive library. This area is simply lovely, and adjacent to the aft facing lido bar. Prices for the vast range of tasty little goodies displayed there are also very reasonable indeed.

Also new is an outdoor, extra tariff grill restaurant that opens out onto the outdoor main pool area. It was closed during our visit, but the location alone lends it a unique, quite spectacular ambiance that should make it a hugely popular draw. If there is one thing that Fred. Olsen has always been renowned for, it is the consistent good quality of the on board culinary experience. The addition of this intimate little grill is an intriguing little twist.

Indoors, the main Glentanar dining room is still an airy, spacious room that operates two sittings at dinner. Supremely comfortable, it features a plethora of space between tables that makes serving the diners easier for the waiters. Dining here is always a special event.

Nearby, the more casual indoor buffet is an elegant enclave that conjures up the air of a combination sidewalk cafe and elegant bistro. Open for all main meals, it is a beautiful splash of colour in the midst of a stately procession of public rooms.

Gone is the famed, tartan accented Piper’s Bar of old. In it’s place sits a more toned down, elegant Morning Light pub, with more muted colours, and a bar that still faces out toward the promenade deck windows. For those looking for the Black Watch of old, the main Braemar Lounge remains an airy, expansive haven that spans the full width of the ship. However, it seemed to me that the original Scottish baronial theme of decor had been toned down somewhat even here.

Up top and right forward, the Observation Lounge still offers wonderful, expansive views through 270 degrees, via a spectacular, horse shoe shaped wall of floor to ceiling windows. A gorgeous venue for savouring a spectacular sunset, it is now also the perfect setting for the special, extra charge afternoon high teas that are available on sea days. A daily afternoon tea is also served in the main lounges at no extra charge, though the upper deck version is a much more elaborate, truly elevated affair.

Cabins across all grades have been refreshed with fresh bedspreads, soft goods and plasma screen TVs, and now feature tea and coffee making facilities. The welcome number of balcony cabins added a few years ago will be augmented by a set of new, additional balconies on some of the junior suites on seven deck. Up top, the suites remain calm, expansive havens; genuine two room apartments with full size terraces graced with quality outdoor furniture that makes relaxation an art form in itself.

Outdoors, the amount of open deck space remains one of the great selling points of the Black Watch. A gracious series of tiered terraces sweep down to an expansive, aft deck main pool area, complete with small exercise pools that abut the main one, and a large Jacuzzi. The promenade deck is an almost blinding, show white expanse of carefully maintained woodwork, flanked by serried tiers of sun loungers. Here, you could just as easily be on the Olympic or the Queen Mary as the Black Watch; it’s a timeless, effortlessly graceful throwback that gives the ship a serene, slightly surreal venue from which to view the ocean or, indeed, the sunset.

So yes, the Black Watch remains a timeless paragon, sympathetically updated to offer every modern, state of the art comfort within the parameters of a classically elegant, beautifully appointed ship. Her deep draft makes her a very smooth ship in rough seas, and while at 28,000 tons she is no baby, the ship is far more intimate and easy to navigate than many of her peers. The size of the ship also means that she can show up in the smaller, more appealing harbours that larger rivals have to pass by at a distance. And, for days at sea, this is the absolute perfect size for a cruise ship, especially one of this quality.

Black Watch. One part languid, one part lovely, and totally appealing. Still a delightful lady of the sea.


The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

So, it’s official; Magellan will become the new CMV flagship effective March, 2015.

The 46,052 ton, 1,250 passenger ship will offer some of the largest cabins available on any ship in the ex UK market. Over her first announced season, the Magellan will offer some thirty-one different voyages.

Here’s the list for your consideration:

March 13/14  Overnight introductory cruises from/to Tilburt

March 15 Twelve night Northern Lights/Solar Eclipse round trip from Tilbury

March 27 Overnight cruise from Tilbury to Newcastle

March 28 Seven night Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Newcastle, also embarks in Dundee on March 29th (6 night cruises)

April 4 Seven nights Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Newcastle, also embarks in Dundee on April 5th (6 night cruise)

April 11 Seven night Norwegian Fjords round trip from Newcastle, also embarks in Dundee on April 12 (6 night cruise)

NB; No more sailings are currently listed until;

June 4 Three night Amsterdam/Antwerp mini cruise from Tilbury

June 7 Six night Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Tilbury

June 13 Six night Norwegian Fjords round trip from Tilbury

June 19 Nine nights British Isles cruise, round trip from Tilbury

June 28 Twelve night Midnight Sun/Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Tilbury

July 10 Eight night Scandinavian Cities round trip from Tilbury

July 18 Nine night British Isles round trip from Tilbury

July 27 Twelve night Iceland /Northern Isles round trip from Tilbury

August 8 Eight night Faroes/Scottish Isles/ Edinburgh Tattoo round trip from Tilbury

August 16 Twelve night Baltic Capitals cruise, round trip from Tilbury

August 28 Six night Norwegian Fjords, round trip from Tilbury

September 3 Three  night mini cruise to Amsterdam, Antwerp and Honfleur, round trip from Tilbury

September 6 Twelve night Baltic Capitals cruise, round trip from Tilbury

September 18 Seven night Norwegian Fjords cruise, round trip from Tilbury

September 25 Six night Autumn Gardens cruises, round trip from Tilbury

October 1 Eight night Scandinavian Cities round trip cruise from Tilbury

October 9 Fourteen night Northern Lights cruise, round trip from Tilbury

October 23 Fifteen night Canary Islands and Madeira, round trip from Tilbury

November 9 Thirty three West Indies and Caribbean, round trip from Tilbury

December 23 Fourteen night Canaries Christmas cruise, round trip from Tilbury

January 6 2015 Forty-two night Caribbean and Amazon Grand Cruise, round trip from Tilbury.


The schedule lists some thirty one separate options in all and, while the bulk are from Tilbury, there are three options each from both Newcastle and Dundee to the Fjords. In addition, the overnight tasters and short, three night cruises provide an idea way to sample the new addition to the fleet.

And- for those of us in the north- it is also worth remembering that the Marco Polo is offering a string of cruises from the Tyne to the highlights of Norway and the Baltic. The veteran ship, which celebrates her fiftieth anniversary next year, is selling well.

Once the gaps in the Magellan programme are filled, the cruises will be listed here.

As always, stay tuned.



Marco Polo will have company in 2015

Marco Polo will have company in 2015

Cruise and Maritime voyages has announced the addition of a new fleet flagship. While it is known that the company has been looking for another ship for a while, the choice comes as a bit if a surprise.

The line has acquired the former Grand Holiday from the now defunct Iberocruises. The 46,052 ship, with a capacity for 1,250 passengers, will join the Marco Polo and the Azores in March, 2015 as the Magellan.

For her inaugural season, the new flagship will offer some thirty one cruises in all, from overnight voyages to a 42 night Caribbean odyssey.

While the ship will be based primarily in London Tilbury, there will also be a series of cruises from Dundee and Newcastle. The maiden voyage will be a twelve night, Northern Lights cruise round trip from Tilbury.

Originally built for Carnival Cruises as the Holiday, the ship became that line’s first large cruise ship when she made her debut in 1985. Among her features are a total of 712 large standard inside and outside cabins that come in at a generous 185 square feet, and some fourteen  upper deck balcony suites. There are two main dining rooms, several pools, and some upper deck hot tubs as well.

The inaugural programme will offer cruises to Norway, the Baltic and Scandinavia, while winter will usher in a series of cruises to the Canary Islands and a spectacular, 42 night voyage to the Amazon and Caribbean.

Despite being twice the tonnage of the beloved Marco Polo, the Magellan will carry only half as many passengers again, creating much more space and entertainment options.

A full list of 2015 itineraries will be on line shortly. Stay tuned.


Marco Polo in Balestrand, Norway

Marco Polo in Balestrand, Norway

Several news sources are reporting that the cruise ship Marco Polo has run aground in northern Norwegian waters.

The veteran liner- which celebrates her fiftieth anniversary next year- went aground on the Lofoten archipelago this morning. The 22,000 ton ship was under the control of a local Norwegian pilot at the time.

As of now, no obvious damage appears to have been done to the ship, and there are no casualties among either passengers or crew. Two Norwegian tugs are reported to be en route to assist the liner as this is written.

Some passengers have supposedly been disembarked. The Marco Polo is said to have overshot the pier where she was scheduled to dock.

It is worth remembering that the ship-originally built as the Alexsandr Pushkin in 1965- has a specially ice strengthened hull, that would make her far more resistant to such damage than many more modern vessels.

At this time, no further reliable information is in the public sphere.

As always, stay tuned.

UPDATE: ITV Evening News reports that the Marco Polo is actually aground on soft mud, and another attempt will indeed be made to refloat her tonight. They also claimed that there seems to be ‘no damage’ to the ship.

The same programme reports that there are some 750 passengers aboard the ship.

UPDATE 2: Cruise and Maritime has just issued a statement that confirms that the Marco Polo has been successfully refloated, and also confirmed that the vessel had grounded on a mud bank this morning.

The ship, with some 763 passengers on board, has now resumed her fourteen night cruise itinerary, and as of now is on course for her next scheduled call at Alta, Norway.