ESPECIALLY ESPRIT- CRYSTAL’S NEW YACHT GOES HIGH TECH

Imagine being able to glide right up to the wreck of the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, as she lies sprawled like some great, fallen beast on the bottom of the Aegean. Getting up close and personal to her giant, thirty eight ton propellers; almost close enough to touch them, in fact.

Imagine cruising around the nine hundred foot long hospital ship as she looms over your small, two man submarine like some ancient, felled building.

Sounds like something straight out of the pages of a James Bond novel, right?

But soon, thanks to the newly wrought Crystal Yacht Cruises, this kind of experience could be one of the items on the menu for the sixty-two privileged guests of the soon to be commissioned new luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit.

The Crystal Esprit will carry a small, two passenger submarine on board for expedition dives on each of its voyages; a truly remarkable first for any line. And, while the circumnavigation of the Britannic, outlined above, is not an advertised activity offered on the yacht, it does serve to illustrate the sheer range of undersea possibilities that Crystal can add to complement it’s ‘wonderful world’ of adventures on the surface.

Currently being converted from the platform of the luxury yacht, Megastar Taurus at the Sembawang shipyard in Singapore, the Crystal Esprit will take highly styled, mega yacht cruising to new heights. And, on an adventurous level at least, to new depths as well.

Due to debut this winter with a maiden season in the Seychelles and Dubai, the Crystal Esprit will move to the Aegean and Croatian Riviera for the summer of 2016.

For those sybaritic souls in search of true, all inclusive style in a very intimate atmosphere, the Crystal Esprit will offer the best of all worlds, and comes complete with the all inclusive fares, together with the superlative service and cuisine that the Crystal brand is synonymous with.

At just 3,300 tons and with a capacity for sixty-two guests, the yacht will feature sumptuous, all suite accommodation, both indoor and outdoor restaurants, as well as some very expensively primped outdoor maritime real estate; think plush sofas, pod beds, and the sort of poolside service you would expect to get at a really top notch Ritz Carlton hotel- but without the bill.

In addition to the submarine already mentioned, the Crystal Esprit will also offer the use of four, ten passenger Zodiacs for exclusive adventures ashore, as well as a one off, 12 passenger, 32 metre long yacht, built by Winder, for out of this world meandering around the islets and waterways where the ship sails.

If you’re not quite ready for the level of playing Captain Nemo, there will be a whole raft of less tech-intensive ‘water toys’ available for use from the yacht. These include jet skis and wake boards, and there are also options such as scuba diving, water ski-ing, or even just fishing.

Crystal Esprit has been cruising as a deluxe yacht for Star Cruises, ever since the company acquired her in 1994. She was originally built in Germany for the long defunct Windsor Line as the Lady Sarah, back in 1991.

As things stand, the yacht has a maximum capacity for eighty passengers, which Crystal intends to pare down to sixty two. Public rooms and accommodations are spread over some four decks in all.

This hip, beautifully styled little adventurer raises the bar yet again on small ship cruising. And, for those really wanting to play at being James Bond in an amazing underwater world, there is also the welcome assurance that, this being Crystal, the Martinis served up topside will be superb as well.

Quite the fascinating premise, this one. As ever, stay tuned for further news.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

THOMSON CRUISES RENEWS THREE YEAR CONTRACT WITH LOUIS CRUISES

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

Thomson cruises; promising platinum

The Cyprus Mail newspaper is reporting today that Thomson Cruises has inked a second, three year charter renewal of two ships with the Cyprus based Louis Cruises.

According to a source in Limassol, Thomson has renewed charters of the 1983 built Thomson Spirit and the 1992 built Thomson Majesty through until November of 2017. The two vessels form part of the five ship Thomson UK operation.

The other ships- Thomson Celebration (the twin sister of Spirit), Thomson Dream and the Island Escape, are owned outright by the company.

The relationship between Thomson and Louis goes back to as far as 1996, when Thomson began chartering ships from the Cypriot operator in a bid to compete with the new, highly successful budget operation of its major rival, Airtours.

 By one of those quirky accidents of fate, the biggest of the Airtours ships now sails for Louis as the Louis Olympia, and was even chartered out to Thomson itself for several successful seasons.

This is a good deal for both lines; Louis has traditionally chartered out several of its vessels to various operators in both the UK and France. Thomson Majesty was originally built as the Royal Majesty for Majesty Cruise Lines in 1992, with Liza Minnelli acting as godmother.

She was for many years a staple of the summertime Boston to Bermuda run, a role she continued after her purchase and lengthening by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1999. She went to Louis in 2009, and has been under charter to Thomson since 2012.

The Thomson Spirit began life as the Nieuw Amsterdam for Holland America in 1983, coming to Louis Cruises after a short, ill fated attempt to revive US flagged cruising out of Hawaii.

  Both ships were recently upgraded with the addition of balconies to the higher priced cabins and suites on board. Marketed to the Thomson UK market and served by flights coming in from several UK airports, both ships sail these days on predominantly seven night, destination intensive itineraries.

With on board food and entertainment tailored to suit their British clientele, the Thomson ships have been very successful. Though the entertainment programme and cruise staff are supplied by Thomson, the ships are still owned, staffed and provisioned by Louis Cruises. 

Typically, both ships spend spring, summer and autumn in the Eastern Mediterranean (Majesty) and the Baltic (Spirit) and, while Thomson Spirit usually spends the winter season on the Red Sea, the Thomson Majesty will be running Canary Island cruises this coming winter.

SHORTER SILVERSEA VOYAGES FOR 2014

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Acknowledging a rising demand for shorter, yet still quite destination intensive itineraries, Silversea has unveiled a series of eleven short cruise options, sailing between June and October of 2014. These cruises, mainly four and five night itineraries, are predominantly in the Aegean, with a one off Northern Europe option available as well.

The cruises are offered across two of the ultra luxury company’s five banner vessels; Silver Cloud and Silver Spirit. 

With the line celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary this year, these short, fully inclusive fares are the ideal opportunity for a real fix of luxury over the course of a few days of total self indulgence. Here’s the skinny on the options available as currently listed;

 

June 2014

SILVER CLOUD

Five nights Northern Europe, June 16th- 21st.  Helsinki, St. Petersburg (two night stay), Tallinn, Stockholm. Fares from £1,650.

July 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four nights Aegean Cruise, July 11th-15th. Venice, Ravenna, Hvar, Kotor, Corfu. Fares from £,1460

Six nights Aegean Cruises, July 15th-21st. Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Kusadasi, Myteline, Istanbul (overnight stay) Fares from £2,190

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

August 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four night Aegean Cruise, 11th- 15th August. Venice, Ravenna, Hvar, Kotor, Corfu. Fares from £1.400

Five night Aegean Cruise, 15th- 20th August. Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Kusadasi, Istanbul (overnight) Fares from £1,750.

Four night Aegean Cruise, 20th- 24th August. Istanbul, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Volos, Piraeus. Fares from £1,580.

Five night Aegean Cruise, 24th-29th August. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Costanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,970.

September 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four night Aegean Cruise, 29th September- October 3rd. Istanbul, Myrina,Thessaloniki, Skiathos, Piraeus. Fares from £1,580.

October 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Five night Aegean Cruise, 3rd-8th October. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Constanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,970.

SILVER CLOUD

Four night Aegean Cruise, 13th-17th October. Istanbul, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Volos, Piraeus. Fares from £1, 360.

Five night Aegean Cruise, 17th -22nd October. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Constanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,690.

 

Explore the highlights of the Greek Islands on a short Silversea cruise

Explore the highlights of the Greek Islands on a short Silversea cruise

All of these fares are cruise only, apply to entry level window suites, and offer accommodation in all outside luxury suites, some ninety per cent of which have private balconies, fully inclusive fares and gourmet dining (including in suite) at any time.

As the newest ship in the fleet, the 36,000 ton Silver Spirit is offering the great majority of these cruises. With a guest capacity of 540 and a crew of 376, she offers more dining venues than the rest of the fleet, including the hugely atmospheric Stars Supper Club. Her lead in veranda suites come in at a generous 376 square feet, inclusive of the balcony.

Silver Cloud was the original, pioneering start up ship for Silversea. Celebrating her 20th anniversary this year, the recently refurbished ship has become a byword for luxury, style and elegance. At just 16,800 tons, Silver Cloud can accommodate just 296 guests, cared for by a crew of 222. Lead in veranda suites are 295 square feet, inclusive of their balconies.

All things considered, these are indulgent, indolent little slices of glamour and luxury. The Aegean cruises in particular fall at a nice time of the year, when the crowds are largely gone, but the weather is still appealing enough to make alfresco dining hugely enjoyable. Coupled with the indulgent luxury and spatial largesse for which Silversea has always been known, they are ideal, whether as a ‘taster’ cruise for first time passengers, or as a pre winter fillip for regular Silversea devotees.

MINI ANTIQUES- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY OFFERS SHORTER FLY CRUISES

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

In a move that is possibly a test run for future sailings, specialist operator Voyages To Antiquity is offering a pair of shorter fly cruises this May aboard the small, beautifully styled Aegean Odyssey.

The fly cruises are of five and nine nights’ duration respectively, and come inclusive of all flights, transfers, shore excursions with knowledgeable, in depth guides, and inclusive beer, wine and soft drinks with dinner each evening. And, with no single supplements to boot, they represent quite extraordinary value.

The first, five day jaunt departs from Istanbul on May 10th, with calls at Lemnos and Izmir to see the stunning, magnificent ruins of Ephesus. Moving on, the Aegean Odyssey then offers a morning touring among the sacred grave sites at Delos, followed by a few hours’ people watching in classy, stylish Mykonos, before disembarking in Athens on May 14th. Single fares for this trip begin at £895.

The second, nine night itinerary begins in Athens on May 14th, and finishes in Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. En route, the Aegean Odyssey visits Nauplia, to see the fabulous site of Epidaurus. After a day at sea, she sails on to Taormina, with it’s fantastic Greco-Roman hilltop theatre, and then on to the historic Sicilian city of Palermo for an overnight stay.

From here, Aegean Odyssey makes her way for another overnight stay; this time in fabled, springtime Sorrento. There is ample time to see such landmark sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum and, of course, the brooding Mount Vesuivius itself, as well as leaving time to enjoy some serious people watching in Piazza Tasso, or even a drive along to fabled Amalfi, or perhaps a boat trip out to Capri.

This cruise concludes the next morning. Prices for the inclusive, nine night package start from £1,495. Again, there is no single supplement.

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

Flights are usually arranged on the scheduled services of British Airways, and include domestic flights to Heathrow where necessary.

The Aegean Odyssey is a small, destination intensive cruise ship with an ambiance more akin to that of a floating country club than a vast maritime theme park. With a capacity for less then four hundred passengers, she offers fabulous service and dining- both indoors and out- and a smart casual dress code.

This is not a ship for those wanting a lively, late night environment. Think of her as a very comfortable combination of a boutique hotel and a fantastic, fulfilling and educational travel experience, and you have the gist.

I particularly recommend the cove balcony cabins in the aft part of the ship as a great buy. Nicely sheltered, and with lovely canvas chairs, they offer you an expansive and roomy vantage point from which to savour those balmy spring time Aegean and Mediterranean sunsets.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW PART TWO: MORE SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST….

P&O's original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

P&O’s original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

The first part of this narrative detailed the ‘after lives’ of several former favourites that sailed for cruise lines such as Carnival, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean. The reaction to that piece was both surprising and very gratifying, hence this follow up.

Holland America Line made big attempts to upgrade its fleet in the mid eighties, well before the spectre of a takeover by Carnival began to loom. To that end, the company commissioned a pair of spectacular, mid sized sisters in 1983 and 1984, respectively; the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Noordam.

These two ships were very popular and successful, cruising mainly in the Caribbean and Alaska. However, after the Carnival takeover in 1997, Holland America began planning and construction of the new, far larger Vista class vessels that populate the fleet today. It was then  obvious that Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam were on borrowed time.

The Nieuw Amsterdam was sold to Louis Cruises in 2002, and Louis then chartered her long term to Thomson Cruises UK. She continues in service for that company as the Thomson Spirit, operating cruises in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions.

The Noordam also found a second life with Thomson, she cruises mainly in the Aegean and Adriatic regions as the Thomson Celebration.

Another former ‘Flying Dutchman’ that has found new life over at Thomson Cruises is the Thomson Dream. This famous ship started life in 1986 as the Homeric, the last newbuild for the ailing Home Lines.

Purchased by Holland America in 1988, she was renamed Westerdam, and then ‘stretched’ in a German shipyard. She then moved on to Costa as their Costa Europa before finally winding up with Thomson back in 2008-9, where she remains to this day. She typically spends her time making seven night cruises around the Mediterranean each summer, and relocates to the Caribbean for winter cruises out of Barbados.

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect 'mini liner'

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect ‘mini liner’

Another former Home Lines survivor is the 1982 built Atlantic. She went to MSC Cruises in 1997 as the Melody, and had a long and successful career with them. Put up for sale in January of 2013, she has yet to find an official buyer. I saw her laid up in Naples in October, still in her MSC colours, and still looking very trim indeed.

Back in the mid 1970s, Cunard tried to shake off it’s dowdy old class conscious image, when it commissioned a pair of 17,000 ton sister ships expressly for the Caribbean cruise trade; the 1976 built Cunard Countess and her 1977 sister, the Cunard Princess. The latter ship was christened in New York by Princess Grace of Monaco.

She is still sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean as the Golden Iris for Israeli-owned Mano Cruises, and has been since 2009. After a long spell with Louis Cruises, and then UK firm Cruise and Maritime, the Cunard Countess is currently laid up in Chalkis, Greece, under the name of Ocean Countess, awaiting a new buyer or charterer.

PORTUSCALE’S AZORES 2014 GERMAN CHARTER CRUISES (UPDATED)

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

Beautiful terraced decks on the Azores

German tour operator, Ambiente, has just announced details of a charter programme of Portuscale Cruises’ 1948 built Azores.

The ship last sailed for the now defunct Classic International Cruises as the Athena,  and originally started life as the Stockholm. She is the oldest passenger ship still in continuous service.

At 16,000 tons, the ship boasts a single main restaurant, a buffet, several bars and lounges, a cinema, disco, and a small pool, together with some wonderful terrace decks at the stern. The cabins are unusually large for a ship of this size, and eight of the top range suites come with private balconies. Sited midships on the upper deck, these have separate bedrooms, and fabulous views out over the ocean.

Ambiente have chartered the Azores from March until November, 2014. The programme begins on March 10th, 2014 with a six night repositioning voyage from Lisbon to Bremerhaven, Germany. 

There will then be a special cruise leaving on March 16th in search of the legendary Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. Ports visited en route will include Alta, Narvik, and Tromso.

The classically built liner- her hull is all riveted- will then spend the summer months cruising in the Baltic and Scandinavia, possibly including visits to her birthplace in Sweden. These cruises will showcase the smaller, less accessible ports of the region in a way that no large cruise ship ever can; it’s very much an ‘up close and personal’ kind of cruise experience.

September will see the Azores sailing south to the warmer, more welcoming waters of the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on late summer/early autumn cruises in and around the Aegean.

Highlights will include an inaugural call at Santorini on October 8th, and another at Corfu on October 17th. Another, seven day cruise will revisit Corfu on October 22nd.

A twelve day Aegean and Ionian cruise departs from Venice on October 26th, and includes calls at Corfu, Heraklion, Katakolon, Santorini, Argostoli and Rhodes, plus a transit of the Corinth Canal before the cruise terminates in Piraeus.

The Ambiente charter concludes in November, with a special, fifteen day Holy Land cruise.

I was lucky enough to sail on this lovely little ship a few years ago, on a week long cruise down to Croatia out of Venice. She retains some fascinating features from her old days, including genuine Swedish American Line ice buckets in the main dining room. This room also still has the original, double height rows of portholes down both sides of its length.

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern also boasts an elevated, upper deck walkway that completely encircles it. This is the only one of its kind that I have ever seen on any ship.

Ambiente itself has a long association with these former CIC ships, having chartered many of them before the line’s unfortunate collapse. They seem keen to renew the arrangement with Portuscale. The Azores herself is now resplendent in the black, white and yellow colours of her new owners and, quite frankly, has never looked better.

I’ll update this piece as more details and itineraries become available. Stay tuned.

OK, for those interested- here are those Ambiente itineraries for Azores as they currently stand.

10-16th March: IMPRESSIONS OF EUROPE/WESTERN SUNSHINE COAST: Lisbon, Lexioes (For Porto), Villagarcia, St. Peter Port, Bremerhaven

16-29th March: UNIQUE POLAR LIGHT AND MAGIC April 3-EXPERIENCE: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Andalsnes, Narvik, Alta (overnight) Tromso, Alesund, Flam, Bremerhaven

29 March- 3rd  April: SPRING AND COASTAL METROPOLISES: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Ijmuiden, Ostend, Bremerhaven

April 3-12th: NORDLAND SYMPHONY: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Skagen, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 12-19th: CITIES AND ROMANTIC PORTS ALONG THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: Bremerhaven, Portsmouth, St. Peter Port, Honfleur, Ostend, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

April 19-26th: EASTER CRUISE, MAGIC OF THE NORTH, FJORDS, TROLLS AND KING CITY, OSLO: Bremerhaven, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Oslo, Gothenburg, Esbjerg, Bremerhaven

April 26- May 4th: SOUTHERN ENGLAND, CHANNEL ISLANDS AND PICTURESQUE CORNWALL: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Isles of Scilly, St. Peter Port, Portland, Bremerhaven

May 4- 15: DIVERSITY OF THE NORTH; SCOTLAND AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Ijmuiden, Harwich, Rosyth, Invergordon, Lerwick, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen, Kiel

May 15-25th: BALTIC TREASURES; DIVERSITY OF THE BALTIC; Kiel, Gdynia, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Stockholm, Kiel

May 25- June 1st: GRANDIOSE WORLD OF FJORDS: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kiel

June 1-13th: NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; TO THE MIDNIGHT SUN; Kiel, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Bergen, Kiel

June 13- 27th: INTENSIVE NORTH CAPE AND FJORDS; MAGICAL LUSTRE OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN: Kiel, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Leknes, Honningsvag, Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Tromso, Alesund, Stavanger, Kiel

June 27- July 10th: WHITE NIGHTS; HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BALTIC SEA, KALININGRAD: Kiel, Ronne, Gdynia, Konigsberg, Klaipeda, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersburg (overnight), Helsinki, Mariehamn, Stockholm, Kiel

July 10-26th: ARCTIC POLAR SUMMER IN GREENLAND AND ICELAND: Kiel, Thorshaven, Seydisfjordur, Akureyri, Grundafjordur, Reykjavik, Paamuit, Nuuk, Sissimuit, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Kangerlussauq, fly to Germany

July 26- August 9th: ICELAND AND GREENLAND FASCINATION: Fly to Kangerlussuaq, Illulisat, Qeqertarsuaq, Sissimuit, Nuuk, Quaqortoq, Reykjavik, Akureyri, Seydisfjordur, Invergordon, Bremerhaven

August 9-17th: ENGLAND AND SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS WITH EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO: Bremerhaven, Invergordon, Rosyth, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Hull, Harwich, Ijmuiden, Bremerhaven

August 17- 29th: PURE EXPERIENCE. NORTH CAPE, LOFOTEN AND THE NORWEGIAN FJORDS: Bremerhaven, Vik, Flam, Alesund, Leknes, Honningsvag, Tromso, Geiranger, Hellesylt, Bergen Bremerhaven

August 29- September 5th: IN THE LAND OF FJORDS AND TROLLS: Bremerhaven, Bergen, Hellesylt, Geiranger, Vik, Flam, Stavanger, Kristiansand, Bremerhaven

September 5- 15th: ENGLAND, IRELAND AND SCOTLAND: Bremerhaven, Dover, Portsmouth, Falmouth, Dublin, Belfast, Stornoway, Rosyth, Bremerhaven

September 15- 25th: COURSE SOUTH- WESTERN EUROPE FOR ALL THE SENSES: Bremerhaven, St.Peter Port, Villagarcia, Lisbon, Portimao, Malaga, Barcelona, Nice

September 25-October 4th: MEDITERRANEAN PEARL: Nice, Ajaccio, Olbia, Trapani, Valletta, Catania. Lipari, Salerno, Porteferraio, Nice

October 4- 19th: BLACK SEA AND SUN ISLAND: Nice, Catania, Santorini, Canakkale, Sochi, Yalta, Odessa, Constanza, Istanbul, Corfu, Venice

October 19- 26th: MAGIC COAST OF THE ADRIATIC: Venice, Zadar, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Kotor, Korcula, Split, Venice

October 26- November 6th: GREEK MYTHS AND LIFESTYLE: Venice, Corfu, Katakolon, Heraklion, Santorini, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Piraeus, Argostoli, Venice

November 6- 20th: HOLY LAND AND MEDITERRANEAN SUNSHINE ISLANDS: Venice, Ancona, Bari, Heraklion, Ashdod (overnight), Haifa, Limassol, Rhodes, Messina, Genoa

The programme currently lists these twenty five cruises as active. Destinations correct at the time of writing.

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS- COMING UP IN THE CRUISE WORLD

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Quite a few things worth noting here, actually, as we begin the long, slow slide into winter. A possible new build. maybe a new cruise line, a big refurb, and some big shifts in deployment are all here in the mix;

AIN’T NO SUNSHINE

After an initially troubled start up following her unprecedented, bow to stern refit, Carnival Sunshine (the former Carnival Destiny) will leave Barcelona on November 1st for a sixteen night transatlantic crossing to New Orleans. With her goes the last deployment of any of the ‘Fun Ships’ in any European cruising region until at least 2015.

Carnival Sunshine will operate seven night Western Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans through April 2014, when she comes around to Port Canaveral to offer six and eight night round trip Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

SERVING UP INDIAN…..

Word is circulating about the likely start up of a new, Indian based cruise line, aimed at tapping the potentially huge local domestic market. Royal Asian Cruise Lines is said to have already bought the laid up Gemini, last used as an accommodation ship at the 2012 London Olympics. The line is also said to be in the market for up to four more, second hand ships of a similar size and vintage.

Final financing arrangements were due to take place in Barcelona this month. The cruise line will initially operate in the Indian Ocean, including the waters around Sri Lanka.

SEABOURN’S FAB FOUR?

Ultra luxury Seabourn Cruise Line is said to be on the cusp of ordering a fourth vessel in the highly successful, 32,000 ton Sojourn class. If so, it will give the line a consistency across the fleet, and a potential depth of world wide deployment that is going to be hard to match. Meanwhile, first of the initial trio, Seabourn Pride, will leave the fleet to join new owners, Windstar, in April next year, with the other two smaller sisters completing the transition in 2015.

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

LOUIS SWINGS SOUTH

With the season for short Aegean and Greek Islands cruises coming rapidly to a close (the last few sailings are in early November)  Louis Cruises is sending two of its ships across the Atlantic on full winter charters.

Louis Aura, currently sailing as the Orient Queen, will be heading for Brazil, to operate a series of itineraries varying in range from between three to seven nights, concentrating mainly on the north east coast of Brazil.

Louis Cristal (familiar to many as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ former Leeward) is off to begin a series of pioneering, seven night fly cruises from Havana, Cuba to the Caribbean. The Louis Cristal is under charter to a Canadian tour operator. Embarkation is also going to be possible for these cruises in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

NOW, VOYAGER

Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Voyager will enter dry dock in Marseille on October 14th  for an eight day refit that will see full refurbishment of the Horizon and Observation lounges with new carpetings, furnishings, and a new bar in each. All penthouse suites will also get a comprehensive makeover.

In addition, all balconies will receive new teak decking, and outdoor relaxation areas will be enhanced with new deck furniture. The Constellation theatre and the atrium will be refurbished with new soft fittings, and marble enhancements.

Carpeting throughout the 708 guest all balcony, all inclusive Voyager will be replaced, and new art works added right throughout the ship.

Seven Seas Voyager is due to resume service on October 23rd, with a ten night sailing from Rome to Venice.

I’ll be on board for that, so expect a more comprehensive appraisal soon after. Stay tuned.

2014 ADVENTURES- LOOKING AHEAD TO SOME OF NEXT YEAR’S HIGHLIGHTS

Raise a glass to the new Norwegian Getaway

Raise a glass to the new Norwegian Getaway

With 2013 already dragging inexorably into the long, leaden days of autumn, I’m increasingly starting to look ahead to some of the potential highlights of 2014.  Here’s just a few of them for you to take a casual glance at.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE is inaugurating the brand new Norwegian Getaway in January and, after the debut of the New York themed Norwegian Breakaway in April, I’m intrigued to see how her South Beach inspired sibling will stack up.

The line is also introducing some really peachy rail/sail deals in Alaska next year, combining a three night rail safari on the fabulous Rocky Mountaineer train to Denali National Park, with a seven night cruise on the beautiful Norwegian Sun, in many ways my favourite ship in the Norwegian fleet. With almost 24 hour daylight in summertime Alaska, I think this one will be unmissable.

A WEEKEND IN LONDON is something to be savoured at the legendary, lavishly refurbished Savoy. It’s the perfect base for catching a really good West End show, or a night out at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club up in Soho. Finish the night with late drinks in Cafe Boheme on Old Compton Street. And, if sobriety allows, head off to watch the sun rise over Waterloo Bridge. Marvellous stuff, methinks.

SILVERSEA celebrates twenty years of unbridled, elegant finesse in 2014. And debut ship Silver Cloud has just had a massive refurbishment that makes her look as good, if not better, than when new. There will be various celebratory voyages on all the ships in the Silversea fleet next year, but I can think of nothing better than a long, lazy Atlantic crossing on the original little pioneer of the fleet. Silversea plus sea days inevitably equals sublime. It would be really rude not to, I think.

Lido deck on the Silver Whisper

Lido deck on the Silver Whisper

NORTH YORKSHIRE MOORS RAILWAY offers authentic steam train and Pullman carriage journeys through eighteen miles of gorgeous, chocolate box pretty countryside between the villages of Grosmont and Pickering- Heartbeat country. It’s a unique adventure at any time of the year, and the experience of being on a steam hauled train is quite unforgettable. There are also special evening dinner trips that make a perfect break; ideal for a warm summer’s evening.

GREEK ISLANDS MINI CRUISE WITH LOUIS CRUISES I love these little three night slices of heaven; sailing from Athens for an evening in Mykonos, shopping in Kusadasi, and some serious people watching in Patmos and stunning Santorini. Go for the spring equinox sailing in March- there’s something totally magical about the play of light on water at that time of year. Plus, it’s warm, but not too hot and crowded. The ships are comfortable and welcoming, plus they are human in scale. Lovely stuff.

Summertime is always special in Durham

Summertime is always special in Durham

A DAY IN DELIGHTFUL DURHAM is always such a treat. Arguably the most beautiful city in England, every cobbled street and sidewalk is brimming with history, charm and character. The famous, eleventh century cathedral and castle form a perennial backdrop to this marvellous compact, city. Grab some lunch over at Cafe Rouge, or bag an outside table, a bottle of wine, and just watch the world go by. Nice indeed.

OK… those are just a few of the things I’m keenly anticipating to get me through the winter. More to the point; what are YOU going to be up to?

GOING FORWARD- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY IN 2014

The Aegean Odyssey

The Aegean Odyssey

There’s a reassuring mix of the familiar and the fascinating in the newly announced Voyages to Antiquity programme for 2014, aboard the line’s small, highly styled Aegean Odyssey.

Familiar in the sense that all the creature comforts that have made the ship such an outstanding and appealing travel option are still there; things such as all shore excursions included, as well as beer and wine at dinner, plus a series of intriguing pre and post hotel stays in landmark cities such as Istanbul and Athens.

The new? That comes in the shape of new ports of call at Bodrum, and gorgeous Greek gems such as Syros and Kos. Owing to demand, the company is stepping up the number of its popular Black Sea itineraries to four in the 2014 season. One of these will also encompass the best of the Greek islands at the same time.

All told, the Aegean Odyssey will offer something like seventeen cruises from March through November, beginning with a sweeping, twenty eight day progress from Athens through to Istanbul, by way of the history and highlights of ancient Egypt. This should provide one of the most comprehensive exposes of both the Greek and Roman empires ever offered on such an inclusive basis.

These tie in with a pair of diverse itineraries that will put the focus firmly on both Athens and Istanbul. Like many options in the itinerary, these can be combined to make one outstanding long voyage.

Voyages to Antiquity is also offering some very attractive, low priced single supplements for the season. All cruises will feature the line’s usual high standard of in depth, on board lectures with experts in the fields of the history of the visited region. Coupled with the largely inclusive nature of the experience, and the sheer quality of the on board product, these cruises represent an outstanding return on the cost.

The entire Voyages to Antiquity operation is the brainchild of Gerry Herrod, fondly remembered in the cruise and leisure industry as the creator of both Ocean Cruise Lines and the legendary Orient Lines.

Aegean Odyssey is a low key, extremely comfortable ship, more than a bit akin to a floating country club. With a smart casual dress code and open seating dining either indoors or outside, she can access a great many smaller, more intriguing ports that bigger ships cannot enter. With a capacity of just 330 passengers, this is intimate, informed cruising for people more interested in feeding their minds than partying until daybreak.