SECOND SHIP FOR CUBA CRUISES?

After a second highly successful season offering cruises on the chartered Celestyal Cristal, it appears that the Canadian owned Cuba Cruises might be in the market for a second ship to run weekly winter cruises around Cuba’s highlights.

Marketed mainly to Canadian and European passengers, the two seasons aboard Cristal have been hugely successful, anticipating the presumed imminent opening of the fabled island to mass market tourism after many years out in the wilderness. There can hardly be a cruise line executive anywhere that is not salivating over the prospect of sailing to the Cuban highlights. Passengers want it, marketing men too and now, so it seems, the American and Cuban authorities do as well.

This is all well and good but, as alluded to in a previous blog, the infrastructure of such harbours as Havana remains firmly stuck in a 1950’s time warp. Ships bigger than 50,000 tons are a no- no on the docking front, and it will be many years before this logistical impasse can be properly overcome in terms of passengers convenience.

Here is the one example where mega ships are at a definite disadvantage in terms of what they can do, and where they can go. Having spent several years denuding their fleets of smaller, older tonnage, all of the big players in the cruise industry will find themselves at a tactical disadvantage for some time to come.

However, Cuba Cruises has no such problem. With record figures being carried on the 24,000 ton Cristal, the line is now apparently actively considering chartering a second ship for the lucrative winter season. And, unsurprisingly, their choice looks likely to fall on Celestyal Cruises, their current partner of choice.

Celestyal is uniquely posied to take advantage of this stroke of good fortune. From October through till March, most of it’s vessels are laid up in Piraeus over the winter. The stormy seas make the popular, three and four night Aegean cruises that they offer pretty much impractical over the winter months.

So, what ship might go out to bolster Cuba?

First option is the flagship, the 38,000 ton Louis Olympia. Originally built as the Song Of America for Royal Caribbean, a Cuba deployment would mark a welcome winter return to the kind of Caribbean cruises that this spacious, airy ship was built for. In particular, her vast amount of outdoor deck space is truly impressive.

However, I think that Cuba Cruises will go with her newer, more inimtate fleet mate, the 2001 built Celestyal Odyssey. At around 28,000 tons, this ship is more compatible with the Cristal in terms of size. She is also far more modern in terms of layout than the 1982 built Olympia.

Like her, the Celestyal Odyssey will sail on the lucrative, three and four day cruises out of Piraeus during the summer and autumn of 2015. In fact, this season will be her first with the company.

Rather than going into lay up over the winter, she could well cross the Atlantic to join the Cristal in Cuban waters over the peak Caribbean season. This would result in a welcome stream of guaranteed revenue for Celes

Sunrise on a second Cuban sun dream?

Sunrise on a second Cuban sun dream?

tyal over the traditionally barren winter months. Potentially, this is a win-win move for both sides.

Exciting times for all concerned if this turns out to be the case. As always, stay tuned.

 

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SHORT CRUISES? GREECE IS THE WORD….

If you’ve always hankered to try a cruise, but don’t want to invest a lot of time or money, then a short but sweet, three or four day run around some of the Greek Islands might be an option worth looking at. Beginning next month, three night cruises sail from Athens on a Friday, with a four night option available each Monday through to November.

These voyages are offered on Celestyal Cruises, very much the Greek specialists, on the Celestyal Olympia, a 38,000 ton veteran that many might remember as the elegant, former Song Of America. She’s a comfortable, commodious ship, capable of carrying around 1600 passengers in a wide range of inside and outside cabins. Throw in authentic, Greek accented cuisine and entertainment, and you’ve got the perfect base for a fun filled few days, whichever break you choose to take.

Comfortable and welcoming rather than glittery and plush, the Celestyal Olympia is perfect for these short, destination oriented cruises. In just a few days, you’ll get snapshots of the highlights and lifestyle in places as diverse as Mykonos, Kusadasi, Santorini, Rhodes and Patmos. In point of fact, you can see more of the world on one of these short, stylish jaunts than many people actually do in a lifetime.

If you’re so inclined, add on a few days pre or post cruise in addictive, exhilarating Athens, one of the greatest cities in the world, and the cornerstone of modern democracy. That makes for a brilliant week in total if you choose this option, and a fantastic collection of memories as well. Did I mention the suntan?

Some brief, glorious glimpses of what you might do on such a cruise? Imagine sunset Margaritas overlooking the Aegean in marvellous, highly styled Mykonos, or staring in awed amazement at the petrified remains of once magnificent Ephesus, from Kusadasi. Stroll through the cafe thronged, winding streets and alleys in the staggering medieval theme park that is Rhodes, or simply while away a languid hour or two at a waterfront taverna in Patmos, with a side order of succulent souvlaki and a glass of chilled retsina. For sure, this is not your ordinary weekend away.

Add in the very real benefit of packing and unpacking only once as a whole host of historical, hedonistic hot spots come to you one after another, and you have the stuff of dreams. Value wise, these trips are very hard to beat. Short on time but high on style, one of these short trips will raise the bar massively for your typical weekend break.

And, come June, Celestyal cruises will be adding a second ship, in the trim form of the lovely Celes

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

tyal Odyssey. This 28,000 ton ship- one part floating hotel, one part floating explorer- will also offer the same, three and four night cruises as her slighly larger sister. And, if you’re really in the market for some serious fun, it is perfectly possible to sail on both ships one after another, just by crossing the pier at the end of the first cruise.

A more fulfilling and exhilarating short break would be very difficult to find, especially with so much included in the price. for 2015, Greece is most definitely the word.

CASUALTIES: SCHETTINO AND FUNCHAL

This week brought an endgame of sorts to a duo of needless, long drawn out, totally depressing events in the maritime community. And, worse still, one of these resulted in the irreplacable loss of thirty two innocent people. Both are salient events and, hopefuly, neither will bear repetition.

Firstly, an Italian court finally got round to sentencing the hapless Francesco Schettinio to sixteen years in jail for the catastrophic capsizing of the Costa Concordia in 2012, with the loss of thirty two lives. The sinking of the huge, state of the art cruise ship rocked the entire industry to its very foundations.

I’m not getting into assumptions about the length or suitability- or not- of the sentenece. I am not in possession of all the facts, and simply not in a position to make an emotionless, analytical judgement on said facts.

But what I do know is this; having driven his ship dangerously close inshore like some adolescent yuppie, showing off his brand new Maserati to his friends, Schettino wrecked his ship. Far worse, he then abandoned the hapless thousands entrusted to his care and concern, and fled the scene. This action brought on him the immediate ire and contempt of his opposite numbers of the Italian coast guard. Left to organise a spur of the moment rescue mission in the middle of the night, in freezing cold conditions, their courage, ingenuity and devotion to duty stands as a stark, undeniable contrast to the actions of a man who, once confronted with the enormity of his handiwork, cloaked himself in head to toe denial.

Of course, this availed him little. And, with the lengthy appeals process yet to come, we could be up to the centenary of the disaster before the hapless Schettino himself is steered into a jail cell.

But the man is walking wreckage; his career and future prospects are as bright as that of the ship he destroyed. And, while my sympathies remain totally with the victims of this ghastly tragedy, it is impossible for me not to feel a shred of sympathy for the man himself, while retaining absolute abhorrence at his performance as a so-called captain. Enough said.

Casualty number two appears to be the lovely, beautifuly restored MV Funchal, whose entire summer porgramme of chartered cruises was cancelled this week. This leaves the ship- and, by proxy, owners Portuscale Cruises- effectively shackled to a Lisbon pier for the duration of the year.

While the restoration of this 1961 built classic liner was a thing of beauty to behold, the attempt to charter out Funchal and her fleet mate, Porto, has been a disaster. Third in fleet, Lisboa remains half upgraded in Lisbon, and reportedly up for sale. Only the ongoing, successful charter of the veteran Azores to Cruise And Maritime Voyages seems to be keeping the Portuguese operator on life support. But for how much longer?

Words such as ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ are academic at the moment. Perhaps Portuscale should have concentrated on marketing and sailing the ships themselves, instead of placing them at the beck and call of a conga line of largely whimsical and capricious charterers.

But, whatever, the company has not been good at engaging and getting across the appeal of these unique, soulful quartet of ships. Despite being two years old, only in the last few months has the line opened a Twitter account, for instance. E-mails to their Portuguese offices have just gone unanaswered in the past- and I’m speaking from personakl experience here.

I think it is these two factors that have largely led to the present situation. Is it too late? I hope not. But a radically different course plainly needs to be set.

Otherwise, we are likely to lose one of the most beautifully original and appealing passenger ships still available to travel on today. Make no mistake; the loss of Funchal would be an act of vandalism on a par with taking a scalpel to the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Let us all hope and pray that it does not come to that.

As ever, stay tuned.

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

‘ALLO ‘ALLO! MIMI JOINS THE MARCO POLO……

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

“Listen very carefully; I shall say this only once……”

Pint sized pocket firework and heroine of the ray-zis-tance, Mimi La Bonq, will be joining Cruise And Maritime’s venerable Marco Polo on a special, six night Great European Cities and Rivers Cruise, sailing from Tilbury on October the 24th.

The cruise is one of a number of special voyages lined up to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Marco Polo, and is sure to be very popular.

In addition to being able to say ‘Gid Moaning’ to Mimi- real name Sue Hodge- you will also find on board both Boycey and his lovely wife Marlene, the Rhett and Scarlett of the hugely popular sitcom, Only Fools And Horses.

This cruise has a great itinerary in itself, calling at both Amsterdam and Antwerp, before making overnight stays in Rouen and Honfleur. This allows passengers to dine ashore in the evening if they wish, or perhaps to sample some of the local nightlife.

Although it is unlikely that they will find Mimi returning to her old profession of waitressing in the cafes of the French towns, it would be quite in character for the spiky blonde force of nature to cook up some intriguing adventures all by herself.

Famed for spending many years serving ‘under’ Rene Artois, ‘ero of the ray-zis-tance and late proprietor of the Café Rene in Nouvignon in the popular, long running BBC sitcom, Mimi became one of the heroines of the epic struggle against the ‘Cherman’ occupiers. In this role, she appeared as everything from a hunch backed monster in a haunted castle to a flying nun, a habit she never quite got over.

However, Cruise And Maritime have been able to provide assurances regarding certain other related characters…..

Lovers of a traditional Gin and Tonic tipple might be rather relieved to hear that Madame Fanny La Fan, the one time toast of the Follies Bergeres, will not be roused from her bed to join the cruise and potentially empty the ship’s entire supply of gin over her breakfast corn flakes each morning.

And, her lovely daughter- Madame Edith- will, alas, not be able to entertain passengers on board the Marco Polo with her various unique and wildly eclectic vocal stylings.

On the other hand, a report that General Von Klinkerhoffen will be boarding the Marco Polo at Honfleur to make a personal tour of inspection has yet to be denied.

And, should anyone feel the need for some in depth, local sightseeing, it is possible that Lieutenant Gruber could just take you for a spin in his little tank.

OASIS 4- GOING WHERE, EXACTLY?

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

As attention here in the UK focuses on two ship launches next month- P&O’s Britannia in Southampton on March 10th, and the Tilbury inauguration of Cruise and Maritimes’ Magellan at Tilbury on the 12th, STX shipyard in France has quietly begin cutting the steel for the fourth of the gigantic, 220,000 ton Oasis class shps yesterday over at Saint Nazaire.

To put her in some kind of context, this monster ship alone is more than twice the size of the combined total tonnage of the four ship Cruise and Maritime fleet. She rounds off- for now at least- the most physically spectacular quartet of passenger carrying vessels ever built. But the big question is; where will she go?

With her already complete pair of siblings sailing the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale- and Allure Of The Seas making her summer European debut this year- you have to wonder if there is a winter Caribbean market for even another one of these gigantic vessels, let alone the pair that are now officially underway.

Each week, Oasis and Allure both disembark  6,500 passengers, before embarking the same number again- an extraordinary through footfall of 26,000 passengers through the Florida port for these two ships alone. And, while no one can doubt that this is an extraordinary logistical feat- indeed, an unparalleled one- it has to be asked if one or two more such monsters could be viable in the serially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise trade.

So, where would you send one or both of these ships- each of them the size of a small city- to fill them? Obviously, Royal Caribbean has long since done the numbers, and has a plan that works for them. But, as we are in the dark regarding the itineraries for these ships, we’ll have to indulge in a little speculation.

It is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, of this extraordinary quartet could go straight to China, for cruising in the Far East. Like the rival Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean fully recognises the vast potential of the Chinese market. In point of fact, I’d put money on one- or perhaps even both- of these new ships being China bound soon after completion.

I would also expect that we will now see an annual European cruise season each year for one of these ships, primarily in the Western Mediterranean. I expect the Allure Of The Seas will be hugely popular in 2015 as she gears up for her first ever season of seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises out of Barcelona. That being a given, it would be pretty unwise for Royal Caribbean not to repeat the experience on a yearly basis, though whether the line will keep a ship on this scale on year round European cruises might yet be a bridge too far.

Interesting times in the mega ship market, for sure. As ever, stay tuned for updates.