CARNIVAL ORDERS FIRST NEW BUILD FOR P&O CRUISES, AUSTRALIA

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P&O Australia is ploughing full speed a head with a first ever, dedicated new build

Carnival Corporation has announced the construction of a first ever, purpose built cruise ship for it’s P&O Australia brand.

The ship is part of a brand new, four ship order from Italy’s Fincantieri yard for the Carnival portfolio of lines. In addition to the P&O Australia build, there will be two dedicated vessels for Costa’s operation for the Chinese market in Asia, and another ship for Princess Cruises, based on the popular Royal Princess platform.

All four new vessels are expected to be delivered between 2019 and 2020.

But it is the new build for the Australian market that is especially interesting. Thus far, all of the P&O Australia fleet has been reconditioned former tonnage, taken from the likes of Ocean Village, and Holland America Line.

The new, as yet nameless vessel is said to have a passenger capacity of 4,200. Following on from the projected 2017 debut of the Pacific Explorer (currently sailing as the Dawn Princess) the new ship will bring the P&O Australia fleet up to a total of six vessels- a quite remarkable achievement in such a relatively short space of time.

She will also constitute the first, purpose built vessel for the P&O Australia fleet, and her much larger passenger capacity puts her on a par with the 150,000 ton class of cruise ships that seems to be becoming the worldwide industry standard size these days.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

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LITTLE ROYALS- SHORT EUROPEAN BREAKS ON CUNARD IN 2016

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QM2 is sailing full speed ahead for some substantial enhancements in 2016

Interested in trying the classic Cunard on board experience for yourself, but unwilling to make a first time commitment to a long, potentially expensive voyage?

Or maybe you’re already a die hard fan, short on time, but looking for a tasty little top up of that famous on board ambiance?

Both of these can be realised on a short, two to five night break on one of the storied ‘Three Queens’ in Europe next year.

Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will offer a whole raft of trips between them. Starting in January, you can visit prime European short haul ports such as Zeebrugge, Amsterdam, Guernsey and Hamburg, while still lapping up the on board vibe.

To coincide with some of her Atlantic crossings that embark in Hamburg, there are options to sail on the Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to Hamburg, or indeed vice versa. These jaunts give you two full days on the Cunard flagship-fresh from a substantial refurbishment and upgrade in the late spring of 2016.

In July, Queen Mary 2 also offers a special, four night round trip cruise from Southampton. Smaller sibling, Queen Elizabeth, offers a similar itinerary in May.

The voyages, running through until December, offer a cost effective way to experience life on board one of the famous famous trio of ships at sea, plus the chance to step ashore and enjoy the lifestyle in some of Europe’s more invigorating ports.

Worth a look for sure.

EMPRESS OF THE SEAS IS MIAMI BOUND

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Empress of the Seas is returning to the warm, welcoming waters of the Caribbean and Bahamas for 2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that it’s soon to be re-integrated Empress of the Seas is to be based in Miami.

The 48,000 ton ship is returning to RCI after an eight year spell sailing as the Empress for Pullmantur, the troubled Spanish offshoot of RCI, in Europe.

Beginning in March 2016, the Empress of the Seas will embark on a series of short three, four and five night cruises to destinations such as Nassau, Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman and the company’s private island of Coco Cay, in the Bahamas.

Key selling points of the ship’s programme will be an earlier, expedited embarkation time from 110 onward, and a number of overnight stays in Cozumel on the longer, five night run. At present, she is the only ship out of Miami to offer such an option.

The vessel is being sold as very much a party experience rather than an in depth, cultural expedition ship of any kind. She will also undergo a refurbishment before returning to service, though exact specifics are few at this time.

At present, these short cruises are being sold as year round options. But speculation remains rife that Empress of the Seas may, in time, return to her old summer programme of seven night Bermuda cruises from New York- a role in which she was hugely popular in the late nineties.

Stay tuned for any updates.

CRYSTAL SERENITY TO OFFER SECOND ALASKA SEASON IN 2017

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It’s ‘adios’ to the Mediterranean for Crystal Serenity in 2017

In what amounts to a complete about face, Crystal Cruises has cancelled the entire 2017 European deployment for Crystal Serenity. Instead, the 2003 built, 68,000 ton ship will offer a whole new raft of itineraries, centered on the continental USA.

Summer will see the ship offering a second, consecutive season of Alaska cruises, ranging in length between seven and ten days, and the year is filled out by a string of Eastern Seaboard sailings, before the ship heads down into the Caribbean for a fall and winter season.

There will also be a series of New England itineraries in the fall, also typically in the seven to ten nights’ range.

A fourteen night repositioning cruise from Miami to Los Angeles will be the prelude to a series of seven night West Coast USA cruises, and at least one long, exotic, sixteen night swing out cruise to Hawaii and back. There will also be a longer, more in depth, fourteen night itinerary to Mexico as well the more conventional seven night options.

Bookings for these new itineraries open on December 31st.

This is the first time since her launch in 2003 that the Crystal Serenity has spent two consecutive seasons away from her usual run of peak season cruises in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

So far, there is no news of alternative itineraries for sibling vessel, Crystal Symphony. Her full season of Baltic and Northern Europe cruises, scheduled to operate from May to October, is thus far unchanged.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

 

DIANA ROSS TO HEADLINE CARIBBEAN CRUISE IN APRIL

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Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

The legendary Diana Ross will lead an astonishing line up of musical talent on an eight day Carnival cruise to the Caribbean from Miami next April.

Also on the bill will be Patti Labelle, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, and a host of other stars on what amounts to a soul music festival at sea.

Other headline acts include Charlie Wilson, New Edition, and the Bar-Kays.

The cruise is being run as part of the Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage, which raises funds to support students attending what are described as ‘historically Black colleges and universities.’

The eight night cruise sails from Miami on April 23rd, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk, before returning to Miami on May 1st.

The 135,000 ton Carnival Breeze will also be hosting a series of empowerment seminars during the cruise, as well as daytime parties and various theme nights.

While all of this amounts to a massive party on the ocean-one with a  charitable slant as well- there is no doubting that the centre spotlight will belong to Diana Ross.

As a recording artist, she found fame with the Supremes in the mid 1960’s before going solo. Since then, she has also recorded duets with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias, among many others.

In all, she has scored some nineteen number one hit singles to date; twelve as lead singer of the Supremes, and seven solo smashes.

Fares for the cruise are currently listed from $2,860 for an inside cabin, to around $4,000 for an outside.

 

QUEEN MARY 2 SUFFERS SMALL FIRE IN GAS TURBINE

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Queen Mary 2 Mid Atlantic funnel shot

The Queen Mary 2 has suffered a small fire in one of her gas turbines today while docked in the port of Lisbon.

The fire is under control and the damage- described as minor- is currently under assessment. Right now, the liner is still scheduled to sail on time for her next port of call- the Spanish port of Vigo- later tonight.

However, one of the pods is not coming on line right at this moment.

The Queen Mary 2 is currently in the last stage of a twelve night, round trip cruise from Southampton to the Canary Islands and Portugal, that sailed from Southampton on December 3rd. The ship is due back in the Hampshire port after her Vigo call on December 15th. Later that same day, she is scheduled to sail on her final, westbound crossing of the year to New York.

Stay tuned for news.

My grateful thanks go to Ron Acosta for this on the spot update.

ELEGANCE AND EXCESS; FIRST CLASS ON THE ATLANTIC CROSSING

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The France of 1962 at her Manhattan pier. The French Line called her ‘The last refuge of the good life.’

With the high water era of the Atlantic liners long since gone, many exaggerated claims have been made about those largely vanished times. Partly through the prism of warped memories recounted to star struck writers, former passengers waxed lyrical about entire tureens of caviar in first class, among other things. One woman in particular recalled the ill fated Titanic carrying ‘an entire herd’ of dairy cows to provide the first class passengers with fresh milk.

Add in  a nostalgic fondness for a mostly wonderful experience that has all but vanished, and the possibility for exaggeration and distortion grows larger still. The line between fact and fiction blurs like fog on the horizon.

Drawing a perfect bead on those days is ultimately about as plausible as stuffing a cloud into a suitcase. But a great many of those lovingly embellished claims really do have at least some foundation in fact.  Let’s look at some of the most famous excesses of the first class Atlantic crossing that actually do stack up.

French Line cuisine is often claimed to have been the finest afloat. In first class, the Ile De France offered no less than two hundred and seventy five different items to sample on the dinner menu. The same ship offered onion soup for breakfast, among other things.

A few years later, the still unparalelled Normandie listed some three hundred and twenty five items on the evening menu. It must have taken an hour just to peruse it. This menu was served up in the first ever air conditioned public room to go to sea.

Interestingly, the French Line never really went for separate, additional first class eating venues for dinner, such as the famed Verandah Grills of the Cunard Queens, or the Ritz-Carlton that was so popular on the Amerika. 

True, the Normandie did have an aft facing, upper deck Cafe Grill located in approximately the same place as those on the Queens, but this was far more of a late night supper club venue than a dedicated, first class alternative for dinner. On many crossings, it seldom got busy before midnight.

Simply put, the French Line considered that it’s uniform standard of first class dining was of such a high level that creating a separate dining room was superfluous. Passengers could, of course, also dine in their suites. But that lack of an alternative first class venue for diners was as much a statement of intent as anything else. Even the flashy, much more modern France did not deviate from that rule when she came into service as late as 1962.

If the ships were over the top in first class, then they certainly did cosset- and covet- many over the top passengers. In the 1930’s it was nothing unusual for Count Rossi, of Martini and Rossi fame, to block book entire thirty cabin suites for himself and his entourage aboard the Conte Di Savoia or the Rex on the Italian Line’s ‘sunny southern’ route to and from New York.

Cunard devotees before and after the war, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor switched to the brand new United States from 1952 onward. The Duchess would think nothing of asking in advance for her suite to be decorated in a colour scheme that she herself had devised. However, that same couple rather let down their reputation for extravagance by insisting that they pay only a minimum, inside cabin rate for the same suite.

Mountains of personal luggage were an obvious norm. A lady travelling in first class on a transatlantic liner could be expected to change her clothes up to four times a day. The likes of the Astors, Wideners and Thayers boarded the ill fated Titanic with a whole raft of suitcases, steamer trunks and other sundries that they had picked up during their travels, not to mention an entire retinue of personal maids, valets, private secretaries, and even prized pets. In those days, this would not have even raised an eyebrow.

It is a common conception that such excess ended after the war. It almost did, but not quite.

On the QE2, the famous Mrs. L. Kirk Edwards- known to everyone as Lulu- spent so much time in residence on board that she became part of the fixtures and fittings. She once famously quipped that “I sent my yacht to the Falklands” after the ship’s heroic stint in the infamous 1982 conflict. She was in the habit of throwing cocktail parties for the ship’s off duty officers after church service on Sundays. They became known on board as ‘The thirst after righteousness’.

Another lady of a certain age sailed on the QE2 on every single one of her three month long circumnavigations of the world. She routinely took two suites- one for herself, and the other to store each of the ninety or so new designer outfits that she had created from scratch for each adventure.

Of course, QE2 always remained a singular, stubborn holdout to the end; a shining example of style over hype. I remember one particular lady, wearing over a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of jewels at one cocktail party. With a perfectly straight face, she told me that QE2 was the only place where she could wear such an excess of diamante and still feel perfectly safe.

There was a man- a brain surgeon as it turned out- who lost $45,000 in the casino on a single night. And many QE2 regulars will no doubt recall meeting the legendary Beatrice ‘Bea’ Muller, another lady of means that lived on board the famed vessel until the end of her Cunard career.

Excessive? Probably. Elegance? Certainly. Enigmatic? Beyond the shadow of a doubt.

 

PULLMANTUR’S ZENITH IN REEF INCIDENT

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Grand Cayman remains a popular anchor port for Holland America Line, among many others. Photo @antnich

Pullmantur’s cruise ship Zenith was the inadvertent cause of reef damage at Grand Cayman on Tuesday.

The 47,000 ton ship was directed by the local pilot to a government assigned anchor position, where she duly stopped in preparation to tender her passengers ashore for the day.

Scott Prodahl, a local diving instructor, noticed that the water around the anchored Zenith was clouding over- a sign that the anchor chain was chafing against nearby coral. He subsequently filmed a five and half minute long video of the scene.

However, there is no suggestion from any quarter that the Zenith was to blame for the incident. A Cayman environment official, Scott Slaybaugh, told The Cayman Times exactly that. In evidence, he produced a software tracking graphic that clearly showed the Zenith correctly positioned at her designated spot.

All of this points up the need for proper berthing facilities at Grand Cayman. As of now, all cruise ships have to anchor offshore and then tender their passengers into the centre of George Town.

On many days, there can be upwards of five cruise ships tendering passengers ashore-a state of affairs that has increasingly exasperated all the major cruise companies for over three decades.

In October, the government finally gave the go-ahead for construction of the first, purpose built cruise terminal at Grand Cayman.

But even that is nowhere near enough to handle the huge volumes of winter traffic at this Caribbean hot spot, and there are still environmental concerns around the subject that need to be thrashed out at a local level.

That said, the unfortunate incident with the Zenith might prove something of a wake up call.

Stay tuned for further news.

HERBIE HANCOCK TO HEADLINE ON QUEEN MARY 2 IN AUGUST 2016

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Jazz legend Herbie Hancock will be blowing up a storm amid the hallowed halls of Queen Mary 2 on a summer transatlantic crossing in August 2016

Jazz royalty joins forces with ocean going majesty next year, when the legendary Herbie Hancocke headlines on board the Queen Mary 2 over the course of an eight night transatlantic crossing next year.

The  transatlantic crossing sails from Southampton on August 1st, 2016, and is scheduled to arrive in New York on the 9th.

The voyage-billed as the Blue Note Jazz festival at Sea- will allow the famed entertainer to run through renditions of tunes from an impressive catalogue of jazz/fusion classics dating back over several decades.

In the UK, Herbie Hancock is best known as a solo performer, where he notched up a series of chart hits in the late seventies and early eighties, including I Thought It Was You, Rock-It and You Bet Your Love.

To date, he was mustered a quite incredible total of fourteen Grammy awards, and worked with many of the ‘greats’ of the jazz firmament, including Miles Davis, Charlie Byrd, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

By that time, Queen Mary 2 herself will have benefited from a significant upgrading that will add several single and Britannia Club cabins, as well as a totally transformed King’s Court restaurant and a new, evocatively styled Verandah Grill that will replace the current Todd English restaurant. There will also be a doubling of the amount of dog kennels currently on board the Cunard flagship.

Fares for the eight night crossing begin at £1,699 per person based on an inside cabin, and includes a return flight from New York.

The crossing makes for a subtle, highly styled fusion of sizzling, platinum chip jazz funk and age old Cunard flair and service, served up over an eight night time scale at the height of the summer season.

For lovers of both jazz and sheer, timeless style, this one comes very highly recommended.

 

ISLAND ESCAPE SOLD TO CRUISE HOLDINGS (DECEMBER 6TH UPDATE)

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New horizons venture for the well travelled Island Escape…

December 7th update:

The Cruise Industry News website (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the ship purchased by the new start up Chinese operator, Diamond Cruises, is actually Estur’s Aegean Paradise, and not the Island Escape, as previously cited by the same source.

As of this moment, the actual future deployment of the Island Escape -if any- has yet to be determined.

The Cruise and Ferry website (www.cruiseandferry.net) is reporting the sale by Thomson Cruises of the Island Escape to Cruise Holdings.

The vessel is apparently underway to the French port of Brest, where she will be renamed as Ocean Gala. News of any upgrades or future deployment is as yet unclear, but it seems that the popular budget vessel will continue in cruise service after all- welcome news for the many thousands of passengers with fond memories of this ship.

Island Escape actually started life as the Scandinavia of 1982. She was a dual purpose cruise and car ferry, intended to run on a regular service between New York and the Bahamas for DFDS Seaways.

The service was never the anticipated success, and the Scandinavia soon returned to Europe to operate on the overnight cruise ferry service between Copenhagen and Oslo.

It was Royal Caribbean international that first saw the potential for her as a ship ideally suited to short cruises. The ship was extensively refitted, including the installation of the trademark RCCL ‘Viking Crown’ lounge around her funnel, and she was put back into service under the name of Viking Serenade.

in this guise, she ran for many successful seasons on the three and four night cruise run from Los Angeles down to Ensenada, Mexico. Once more surplus to requirements by the turn of the new century, she was taken over by First Choice cruises, renamed as the Island Escape, and put into service on seven night cruises from Palma de Mallorca to the Mediterranean. In winter, the doughty little ship sometimes even sailed to Brazil to operate voyages there.

Increasingly however, over winter the Island Escape usually home ported in Tenerife for similar, week long budget cruise runs to the Canary Islands and Madeira, a role in which she proved very popular.

Once First Choice was assimilated into the Thomson Brand, the Island Escape continued to sail, but was often marketed separately from the main body of the Thomson Cruises fleet. With new tonnage becoming available to Thomson of late, the sale of Island Escape was seen as inevitable.

Island Escape gained a good reputation as a solid, high density cruise ship that was comfortable and familiar, rather than stunning and luxurious- very much an entry level product that, none the less, endeared herself to many. It is a matter of some gratitude that she will continue to sail on as a part of the global cruise family as the Ocean Gala.

I wish the ship and her new owners every success. Stay tuned for updates as they become available.

UPDATE:

The respected industry website, Cruise Industry News (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) is reporting that the Island Escape has actually been sold to a start up Chinese cruise operator, Diamond Cruises.

She will operate for them on cruises from Shanghai after an extensive refurbishment designed to make her more suitable for the local trade. This refit will be carried out in Europe.

The website quotes the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association as it’s prime source of information.