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.

 

 

 

 

STAR CRUISES BOUND FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN IN 2016 (UPDATED)

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The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008. She now sails for Star Cruises as their Superstar Gemini. In that role, she will be returning to the Mediterranean in 2016.

 

DECEMBER 7TH UPDATE;

In a brief, but very to the point press release addressed to Cruise Industry News (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) Genting Hong Kong, the parent company of Star Cruises, has stated that there will be no deployment by Star Cruises in the Mediterranean next year. The release reads thus;

Be informed there are currently no plans for Star Cruises to deploy a ship in the Mediterranean Sea next year.”

The Cruise Industry News blog goes on to attest that the story actually first surfaced via Italian news and media outlets.

For my original blog on the same story, please see below……

For the first time in more than a decade, Star Cruises will be offering an as yet unannounced series of Mediterranean fly cruises over the summer of 2016.

Star Cruises last attempted a similar, one off season more than a decade ago with the Superstar Libra, an unusual move at the time which has never been repeated since- until now.

The line will be sending the 50,000 ton, 1, 530 passenger Superstar Gemini to Genoa next summer. The vessel is perhaps best remembered as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dream.

Built at the French shipyard of Saint Nazaire as the Dreamward in 1992, she was lengthened and renamed as Norwegian Dream in 1998. She was in many ways a pioneering ship for Norwegian, operating their first ever regular season of summer Scandinavia cruises from the UK. The ship was also a popular staple for many years on the summer run to Bermuda from the east coast of the USA.

In 1999, her bow had to be completely rebuilt after she collided in the English Channel in a thick fog with a container ship, the Ever Decent.

Later, the Norwegian Dream went on to pioneer new NCL routes around South America, before leaving the line for an intended 2008 sale to Louis Cruise Lines.

This fell through over alleged mechanical issues, and the unwanted ship spent almost five damaging years laid up at ports around the Greek islands, before parent company Star Cruises took her over a few years ago.

Refurbished and restyled as the Superstar Gemini, she has since sailed on a series of short, highly successful cruises from Singapore and other Far Eastern ports. Her bruited return to Europe in 2016 comes as something of a surprise to many, this writer included.

There are those who feel that the local Asian market is currently over capacity. And, with newer, even larger ships coming on line, perhaps Star Cruises- the current scion of mass market Far East voyages- has decided that now might well be the time to ‘test the water’ in other regions.

In any event, it will be nice to see this popular, fondly remembered ship back on the European circuit in 2016. I await her actual itineraries with interest.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

MSC TO ADD SECOND SHIP TO CUBA NEXT YEAR

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MSC is Cuba bound again in 2016- and how…

In an already predicted move that will surprise few, MSC Cruises has confirmed that it will add a second ship next year to the winter Cuba cruise market. The recently stretched and extensively refurbished MSC Armonia will take up station in Havana, Cuba, next November to offer a pair of alternating, seven night itineraries that run through until April of 2017.

One of these will gift passengers two days and an overnight stay in Havana itself, before shaping course for Roatan and Belize in Central America. From there, the ship will sail on to Costa Maya, and then a final ‘beach day’ at Isla Juventud, before returning to Havana.

Itinerary two will offer two full overnights in Havana, before sailing to Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, and thence heading back to Havana.

Both of these options can be combined to make one long, fourteen night itinerary. And, in order to help meet the rising demand for fly cruise options, MSC is looking at increasing and enhancing it’s airlift options to Cuba, both from mainland Europe and Canada as well.

The addition of the MSC Armonia follows the amazing sales for the coming inaugural Cuba season of the MSC Opera. That ship will also return to Cuba next December to operate similar, seven night cruises cruises.

The arrival of MSC Armonia will take the total number of cruise ships deployed to Cuba in winter up to four, with the Celestyal Crystal also continuing her yearly deployment from Havana. In addition, the newly refurbished Fathom cruise ship will be making Cuba the central focus of her Miami based cruises.

As yet, no true mega ships have been deployed down Havana way, but this doubling up off tonnage from MSC in just one season is a potent demonstration of the way things are heading. Once the American market can travel to Cuba again en masse, it will get far busier still.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

 

 

 

 

NEWCASTLE’S PORT OF TYNE TO HOST THIRTY-NINE CRUISE VISITS IN 2016

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Always a welcome sight at Port of Tyne, the Marco Polo will be back to the port in 2016

2016 will see Newcastle’s Port of Tyne hosting some thirty nine cruise ship calls between April and September, including some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament.

Cruise and Maritime’s flagship, Magellan inaugurates the 2016 cruise season on April 2nd, with the first of five round trip sailings to Norway and the Baltic capitals, before she returns to Tilbury on an overnight sailing on May 20th.

Later in the year, her fleet mate- the veteran Marco Polo- returns to operate two cruises- a Baltic itinerary, and a round trip to Iceland and Greenland.

Long established in northern waters, Fred. Olsen introduces it’s flagship, the gorgeous Balmoral, to the Tyne for the first time in 2016. The ship will operate the largest single round trip deployment from Port of Tyne in 2016. Beginning in May, she will offer some eleven sailings to Norway, round Britain, and even down to the Mediterranean, ranging from five to fifteen nights in length.

2016 will also see the return of some platinum chip prestige vessels on cruise visits, with the sublime Crystal Symphony returning to Port of Tyne on July 7th in the course of a North Sea voyage.

Also back is Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager on both June 8th and August 16th, while Oceania’s highly styled Nautica and Marina also make guest appearances.

Most likely to draw multi generation attention will be the first ever visits by Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Magic will visit the port twice in June; once during the course of a round Britain circuit, and again during a follow on Baltic cruise.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Kongingsdam on August 16th is a real coup for the port. The new Holland America Line flagship will be in ‘town’ on the same day as Seven Seas Voyager. And her slightly smaller sister ship- the Zuiderdam- will also be on the Tyne on July 2nd.

All in all, a busy and prestigious roster of cruise ship tonnage will be showcased at Newcastle/Port of Tyne in 2016. Stay tuned for any updates, or see the complete list (with arrival times and departures) at; http://www.portoftyne.co.uk

 

Thanks to Lisa Donohoe at Port of Tyne for supplying the arrivals list for the Tyneside 2016 season

 

VIKING SEA ON SCHEDULE FOR APRIL 2016 DEBUT

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The home waters of Norway beckon for the brand new Viking Sea in 2016

The second of Viking Ocean Cruises’ sextet of cruise ships will make her formal commercial debut on April 3rd, 2016.

Currently nearing completion at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy. the 47,000 ton Viking Sea will sail on an inaugural, nine night voyage from Athens through to Venice, with stops in Istanbul, Kusadasi, Kotor, Pula, and Dubrovnik en route.

During her first season, Viking Sea will sail spring and summer Baltic itineraries, before returning to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean at the end of July. From here, she will sail year round to the highlights of Greece, Egypt and Turkey while her sister ship- the already in service Viking Star- redeploys to the Caribbean for a maiden season of cruises based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Those eleven night Caribbean sailings are actually quite port intensive, with a first night spent on board the ship in San Juan, and subsequent calls to Tortola, Antigua, St. Lucia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and St. Thomas, before returning to San Juan. Prices, including flights, transfers and all guided tours, free Wi-Fi and beer and wine with lunch and dinner, as well as free use of all sauna and on board spa facilities, begin at £2,490 per person.

Meanwhile, Viking Sea will sail a mixture of nine. twelve and fourteen night itineraries in Europe on a year round basis. Many of these can be combined to create a truly inclusive, three week adventure.

Of especial note is an advertised, thirty five night Nordic Explorer adventure, taking the ship from Athens all the way through the Mediterranean to Bergen, via the western Mediterranean and coast of Europe, sailing on April 3rd from Athens.

For those interested in her maiden UK arrival, Viking Sea is scheduled to be in Southampton on Thursday, May 5th. First arrival in her home port of Bergen, Norway, will take the form of a two day stay on May 8/9th.

It will be interesting to see how the company markets this second of class ship after the grand splash (pun intentional) created by Viking Star last year. This whole ‘back to the future’ style of cruising that the line strives to offer seems to emphasise a very inclusive kind of understated luxe as opposed to a sensational, fairground ride kind of adrenaline rush.

It remains a fact that, while the first ship of a company is a statement of intent, then the second ship has to cement that reputation and ensure a smooth, onward product progression. In many ways, more is actually riding on Viking Sea than many people have perhaps considered.

That said, there is every reason for optimism. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

CELESTYAL’S CRYSTAL GETS NEW BALCONIES IN TIME FOR CUBA SEASON

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Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Just prior to beginning her new season of round Cuba cruises in December, the 24,000 ton Celestyal Crystal had an extra forty three balconies added to cabins on Six and Seven decks.

The work, carried out in twenty days in a Piraeus shipyard, added some twenty six balconies to junior suites on Deck Six, and a further seventeen to junior suites on Deck Seven. Most of these are located on the forward part of the ship’s superstructure, with a few more located right aft.

The new balconies all extend approximately 1.4 metres from the sides of the ship, and vary in length from 2.8 up to a quite substantial 5.8 metres. They represent a significant enhancement for these rooms which, on average, come in at around 170 square feet of interior space each.

In addition, the eight, V-shaped midships balconies on the Deck Eight Penthouse Suites were extended and refurbished, as were those on the two forward facing Imperial Suites overlooking the bow. Those latter two suites also feature a Jacuzzi, located on the balcony.

The total of fifty three balconies now available adds some very welcome, private deck space to what can sometimes feel like a very busy ship. Celestyal Crystal was originally constructed as a Baltic ferry, before undergoing a substantial conversion for full time cruising.

Technical upgrades were also taken in hand during the refurbishment, as well as a general refreshment of the main public areas throughout the ship.

During the winter, the refurbished ship will operate a full programme of seven night, round trip cruises from her home port of Havana, Cuba. Returning to the Aegean in spring, the vessel will then offer a series of three, four and seven night Greece and Turkey cruises from a new home port of Lavrion, just outside of Athens.

An interesting twist on one of the most distinctive and individual small cruise ships in service today. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

CRYSTAL RIVER CRUISES ANNOUNCES 2016-17 ITINERARIES

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National Gallery, Budapest. A forthcoming highlight for the opulent new Crystal River Cruises. from 2017.

Nascent Crystal River Cruises will be hitting a quintet of high notes between 2016 and 2017, with the introduction of a new, musically styled fleet that intended to raise the bar on luxury European river cruises.

First out of the band box is the recently purchased MS Mozart, long regarded as one of the finest deluxe river boats anywhere. She will be restyled as the Crystal Mozart.

Described as a ‘river yacht’, the 160 guest vessel will benefit from a very comprehensive refurbishment before she enters service in July, 2016. The vessel will sail on a pair of alternating, ten and eleven night itineraries along the Danube, showcasing landmark river highlights such as Durnstein, Melk, and the World Heritage listed Wachau Valley, together with Belgrade, Budapest, and the Iron Gates.

Crystal Mozart will also make a special Christmas Markets cruise that will carry guests through the amazing winter hinterland of Austria, Germany and Slovakia.

Second note will be struck by the first of four new, purpose built near sister vessels. The 84 guest Crystal Debussy will showcase a series of five, seven and ten night sailings on the River Seine from Paris. Her first sailing is slated for June 4th, 2017. There will be an emphasis on Parisian art and culture during these voyages, and visits to such legendary, show stopping Normandy favourites as Honfleur and Rouen, with it’s historic links to Joan of Arc.

Just two weeks later another vessel, the Crystal Bach, will inaugurate a series of sailings along the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel. Central to these voyages will be a number of overnight stays in banner ports along the route. These voyages can be taken as a fourteen night adventure. The 110 guest yacht will also offer what promises to be a magically indulgent Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine in December.

Fourth out of the orchestra pit, the Crystal Ravel will carry just eighty four guests on a series of adventures along the Rhone and Garonne rivers, beginning with an inaugural sailing on August 9th, 2017. These voyages will showcase the lush, stunning vineyards, wineries and chateaux of the Gironde and Loire Valleys, and also offer several overnight stays in the fabled city of Bordeaux.

The last note for now will be struck by the Crystal Mahler, with a capacity for 110 guests. Beginning with a maiden cruise on August 29th, 2017, the vessel will sail a series of deep, stunning and extensive sixteen night progressions. These ‘Grand Europe’ itineraries will sail the length of the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, with a series of overnight calls en route including Amsterdam, Budapest, Passau and Vienna.

The stated aim of the company is to bring the same, legendary standards of cuisine, service and inclusiveness to river cruising as it showcases on its brace of hugely lauded ocean cruise ships. To that end, they will be truly all inclusive products that include free Wi-Fi, flights and overseas transfers, use of on board bikes, most alcoholic and soft drinks; a range of complimentary excursions in each port of call, together with all port taxes and on board gratuities.

These cruises are available to book now, with a lead in fare for a ten night, round trip Vienna cruise on Crystal Mozart coming in from £2,670 for a river suite, fully inclusive as outlined above.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

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Norwegian Cruise Line is Australia bound, and in a big way, too.

The recent delivery of Norwegian Escape from Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard marked something of a watershed for Norwegian Cruise Line; she was nothing less than the fourth, 150,000 ton plus mega ship delivered to the company since 2010- an event that few would have foreseen even ten years earlier.

First off came the one of a kind Norwegian Epic, delivered from STX France in 2010, and only recently just refurbished in Southampton. Then came a trio of vessels from Germany; the Breakaway class sisters, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. And, finally, as noted above, the line took delivery of the ‘improved’ Breakaway class vessel, Norwegian Escape, as recently as October.

A second ship in that series has now been allocated to the burgeoning Chinese market. Another projected ship will be given the name of Norwegian Bliss, but she will not see the light of day for a few years.

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Singapore beckons for the Norwegian Star

Thus, 2016 will mark a hiatus in the delivery of new ships to Norwegian Cruise Line. But that should not imply any loss of momentum for the line- now under the guiding hand of industry veteran, Frank Del Rio. Quite the contrary, in fact.

2016 will see the line expand its global offerings on a scale never seen before. Following on from her usual season in Northern Europe, the Norwegian Star will make her away down to Australia, offering some first ever Mediterranean cruises en route. Sailing via Singapore, the 2001 built ship will operate a full season of voyages in and around the Antipodes.

Next winter, Norwegian Sun will showcase a series of cruises down and along the east coast of South America. Always a trailblazer within the Norwegian fleet, the popular ship- another 2001 veteran- will offer a series of voyages between Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires, ranging from seven to ten days’ duration. There will also be some longer trips in the same region.

Like Kevin Sheehan before him, Frank Del Rio has thus far made no commitment to supply the home based UK market with a year round, dedicated ship. But he has reversed one of his predecessor’s prime deployments in the year round Mediterranean market.

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Norwegian is going global for 2016

Last year, many people were surprised by the news that the company’s two dedicated, year round Europe ships- Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit- would be replaced by the giant Norwegian Epic, which was to be based year round in Barcelona. The two smaller ships would be sent back to the more benign, year round waters of the Caribbean.

Now we learn that, after just this one current season sailing year round, the Norwegian Epic will return to the Caribbean- to be replaced by Norwegian Spirit once again. And, in another twist, Norwegian Jade will also return to Europe for seasonal summer sailings, mainly around Italy and the Greek Islands.

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Atrium lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

Personally, I’m delighted to welcome the beautiful, hugely under promoted Norwegian Spirit back to our shores. Her raffish oriental decor and beautiful stepped terrace decks make her one of the most distinctive and appealing ships sailing these waters year round.

As for Bermuda and Alaska, Norwegian retains a strong, seasonal, multi ship deployment. There are also year round sailings to the Caribbean. And, for 2016, the Norwegian Sky is going to all inclusive pricing on her short, three and four day round trip sailings from Miami to the Bahamas.

I just wish that Norwegian would create some more upbeat, short haul routes for the Norwegian Sky. While her short cruises make for great little breakaways, they have become pretty much pedestrian, and far too predictable for a lot of people.

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Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Frankly, many people are sick and tired of Nassau, a place that has a very brittle charm at best. Ditto Freeport. Sure, Great Stirrup Cay has been massively enhanced recently, but is that one call alluring enough to book for alone?

A few years back, Norwegian were offering some great, five night cruises from Miami that took in both Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Now might be a good time to consider reviving this route, using the Norwegian Sky. 

At the very least, why not vary the current, four night itinerary to include Key West every second week, and maybe even Cozumel as well? My feeling is that Norwegian really are missing the boat on this one- pun wholly intentional.

Perhaps such ideas are already under consideration, who knows?

But one thing that is for sure; it really is nice to see Norwegian making real, palpable headway again after playing second fiddle to the likes of Carnival and Royal Caribbean for such a long time. The future of the innovators of Caribbean fly cruising is one that I will follow with interest.

As ever, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

QUEEN MARY 2 SAILS ON 250TH ATLANTIC CROSSING TODAY

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The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

The Queen Mary 2 will embark passengers today for an historic Atlantic crossing- her 250th such voyage since she first entered service in January of 2004.

The great liner will sail from the Red Hook terminal in Brooklyn, New York, on an eight day eastbound transatlantic crossing this afternoon.

Following her arrival in Southampton on December 3rd, the Queen Mary 2 will conclude her 2015 season with three additional sailings; a twelve night round trip cruise to the Canary Islands will be followed by a return, seven night crossing to New York departing on December 15th.

Following her scheduled arrival back in New York on the 22nd December, the Queen Mary 2 will sail her customary, round trip Christmas and New Year’s cruise to the Caribbean, before embarking once more for Europe on January 3rd, 2016.

Next summer, the Queen Mary 2 will embark upon the most complete and comprehensive refit since her aforementioned debut. Carried through by the SMC Design company, the work will see the installation of some forty five new cabins; thirty new Britannia Club balcony cabins, and a long overdue, dedicated fifteen single cabins.

Also of note is the transformation of the current Winter Garden into a new venture called the Carinthia Lounge. Located on Deck 7, the redesigned venue will hosts breakfasts and light lunches, as well as champagne afternoon teas, and evening entertainment.

Elsewhere, the interior of the liner will be refreshed to give her more of a classic Art Deco feel, a process should help to emphasise her North Atlantic heritage.

The refit is slated to be carried through in Hamburg over the period from May 27th to June 21st 2016, inclusive. Queen Mary 2 will then resume service with a ten night, scheduled transatlantic crossing from Hamburg and Southampton to New York.

The extent of the refit makes this the most eagerly anticipated refurbishment of the 2016 cruising season so far announced. No doubt it will also prove to be the most extensively scrutinised one as well.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.