MARITIME SNIPPETS; TIDE, TYNE, AND OUT OF TIME…..

There’s no shortage of news to digest on the maritime front. And, like anything that you are obliged to chew over- whethether actually or mentally- some leave a better taste in the mouth than others. In this industry, that is the inevitable default setting.

I was immensely saddened, but not surprised, to see the sale of the lovely little Lisboa to a scrapyard, some two years after her partially completed refit had to be aborted owing to unexpected extra costs. I had the pleasure of sailing on this staunch, dignified little dream of a ship and, to those who love her, her loss is tragic indeed, if inevitable.

On the plus front, the forthcoming arrival in the UK of Anthem Of The Seas will add a welcome splash of colour and diversity to the big ship market. Sleek, state of the art, and jam packed with a conga line of beguiling new gimmicks and estalished, old fashioned favourites, I expect this ship to be an absolute smash during her first ever European season.

For my own, native North East, this coming August will see the very welcome visits of not one, but two, six star ships within two weeks of each other. First is a very welcome debut for Regent’s sybaritic Seven Seas Voyager, still currently one of only three all suite, all balcony cruise ships in the world. She is followed a fortnight later by the excellent, perenially elegant Crystal Symphony, recently extensively refurbished and definite

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It's all going on right now in the cruise industry...

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It’s all going on right now in the cruise industry…

ly looking as regal as ever.

The arrival of such high end vessels in the region is a wonderful opportunity to show just how much this area has to offer to cruise ship passengers. I hope all concerned do everything possible to provide these incoming visitors with a wonderfully inclusive experience for the day.

For my part, I am also very much looking forward to seeing CMV’s Magellan when she arrives for her inaugural visit to the Tyne on Saturday, 28th March. The 46,052 ton ship- formerly the Holiday of Carnival Cruise Lines- has been extensively refurbished, and looks stunning in her new livery. Expect a full review of this ship shortly.

And, of course, it is not too long now until the poised, beautifully styled Viking Star makes her debut. The first of Viking Ocean’s quartet of cruise ships is very much a throwback to the traditional style of inclusive excellence once typified by the legendary Royal Viking Line, and this new ship is clearly aimed at a market that prefers a more inclusive, tradtional kind of cruise experience. Clearly, the lady is going to be quite something.

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

 

ROYAL CARIBBEAN; ROAMING AND ROLLING…..

As all eyes await the imminent arrival of Anthem Of The Seas in Southampton, and the first full season deployment of an Oasis class ship in the Med is about to be ushered in by Allure Of The Seas, other bits and pieces are going on at Royal Caribbean that seem to have largely slipped under the radar.

With two such genuine, headline grabbing acts, this is hardly surprising. Yet these other comings and goings are, in their own ways, no less news worthy than the shenanigans involving their bigger offspring. So, let’s look at two of them.

Firstly, Splendour Of The Seas will be leaving the fleet in 2016 to join Thomson Cruises (Thomson Splendour, anyone?) The 69,000 ton ship, delivered in March of 1996, was the second of the so-called ‘Vision’ class ships. Like her earlier sibling- Legend Of The Seas- she boasted a vast amount of glass walls all around the ship and, for the first time, larger than average cabins compared the the previous Sovereign class.

Make no mistake; the sale of the first of the Vision class marks a true watershed for RCCL. For Thomson, the ship is a tremendous acquisition. Twice as large as anything else they have ever owned, and with a larger number of good balcony cabins, the ship will replace the Island Escape- ironically, another one time ex-RCCL ship- in the Mediterranean, at least initially. Itineraries are due to be announced next month.

Also next April, Majesty Of The Seas will finally leave the fleet. The last of the original Sovereign class trio will enjoy a happy reunion with her two previously departed sisters over at Pullmantur. The question is, what will replace her on the lucrative, three and four night Bahamas and Key West runs out of Miami.

It is possible that Legend Of The Seas could step into this role. In any event, I fully expect it to be one of the remaining five ships of the Vision class. It seems as yet unlikely that one of the newer, shinier Radiance class vessels would be relegated to such a short, port intensive run.

Finishing the ‘Royal Round Up’, the line has announced that the third of the Oasis class vessels- Harmony Of The Seas- will debut in the Caribbean next year, alongside her two sisters. And- one that is already proving popular news here in the UK- the ever popular Independence Of The Seas will be returning to Southampton to resume year round sailings.

As ever, stay tuned.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE; UK MINI CRUISES IN 2015

Live it up for the weekend on the glamorous Queen Mary 2

Live it up for the weekend on the glamorous Queen Mary 2

For those looking to dip a first time toe into cruising’s alluring world, one of the best and most economical options is the mini cruise. With options ranging from between two to five days, these are a good deal both in terms of time and cash outlay. You can break the assumed preconceptions without breaking the bank.

And, no matter what type of ship and short break you might be into, 2015 serves up more options and styles of seagoing fun and fascination than ever before. From the seriously intimate to the stunningly spectacular, there’s a seagoing smorgasbord on offer in 2015 that has never been equalled before.

First up, Royal Caribbean International has the spectacular, ground breaking new Anthem Of The Seas doing some short, three night summer cruises to ports such as Le Havre and Zeebrugge. if you’re into technologically advanced ships laden with a wealth of fascinating gimmicks, this ship is an excellent, if rather expensive option.

Want smaller, more intimate ships that can access the spots that the big ships find difficult to access? Consider Cruise and Maritime, which is offering a series of two to five night options on the veteran Marco Polo, a classically styled, adults only ocean liner. Built in 1965, this unique ship- very much a one off- is celebrating her fiftieth anniversary this year.

Larger and more contemporary, but still human in scale, the line has a new flagship in the shape of the Magellan. The 46,052 ton ship also offers a series of short cruises and, with her large number of single cabins, she is an excellent buy for the solo traveller.

In similar vein, the highly styled quartet of ships belonging to Fred. Olsen Cruise Line remain perennially popular favourites on the short break market. With excellent food and service, plus some enticing overnight stays, these lovely ships have a style and atmosphere that is truly all their own.

Go bigger? No worries. P&O Cruises has long been one of the most established names in the cruising firmament. This year, the new Britannia– the largest ship ever built solely for the UK cruise market- joins her recently restyled fleet mates to offer a string of exhilarating short jaunts out of Southampton, varying in length from two to five days, throughout most of the year. Some of the pre Christmas sailings in particular make for fantastic shopping opportunities on the continent.

Of course, Cunard remains the very epitome of the great ocean going experience. The line celebrates an unparalleled 175 years of success this year, and you can be part of it on a mini cruise of between two and five nights on any one of their trio of opulent, expansive vessels.

And, if you are not too worried about flying one way, the magnificent Queen Mary 2 offers several opportunities throughout the year to sail between Southampton and Hamburg, or reverse, on a two night voyage that allows you to get an incisive little glimpse into this most storied of ocean liner experiences.

All of these voyages are short on time, but they do provide an experience somewhat akin to a film trailer for a major feature. And, because all of these lines want you to see them at their best, they will often push the boat out-pun wholly intentional- to offer up the best in food, service and, of course, entertainment. All are crucially aware that today’s two night neophyte passenger is next year’s potential two week voyager.

So-different stokes for different folks. And you can always tailor your break to suit your moods. I know many people who simply never leave the ships at all, staying on board to soak up all the luxury on board for the duration. Others treat them as extended, exotic spa breaks and spend the weekend in a bathrobe. Others consider sleep as an optional extra, and simply want to party from A to Z. And, of course, still others use them as an excuse for an indulgent shopping and sightseeing break.

Whatever your pleasure, there is more than enough on the menu on one of these enticing, exhilarating little breaks to leave you wanting more. Have fun,

RAISING THE GAME; NEW CRUISE SHIPS IN EUROPE FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Princess Cruises has announced that their new Royal Princess- launched just last year- will return to Europe for a full season of cruises over the summer. Her arrival- the latest in a slew of announcements from the major lines- points up just how much all the big players see Europe as seminal in filling- and for displaying- their prime movers and shakers. Just look at what else will be here next year.

Royal Caribbean’s new, second of class ship, Anthem Of The Seas will also be based in Southampton and, to no one’s great surprise, so will P&O’s new Britannia, a vessel being built on the same hull platform as Royal Princess.

The deployments by Princess and Royal Caribbean, in particular, represent a quite extraordinary statement of intent. Two of the world’s newest mega ships, with a capacity of well over 4,000 passengers each, will be based in the Hampshire port. It should be great news for the local business in Southampton for sure and, for the canny cruising purchaser, there should also be some great bargains available as well.

Nor is it simply Northern Europe that will be the recipient of state of the art mega ships. After four consecutive summer seasons in the Med, the game changing, 2010 built Norwegian Epic will be permanently home ported in Barcelona for 2015 onward. The one off mega ship significantly ups the ante for year round cruising from the Catalan port, though her itineraries will not be announced until next month, at the Seatrade Conference in Miami.

Larger still, Royal Caribbean took some people by surprise when it announced a full, summer season of 2015 Barcelona sailings on the jaw dropping Allure Of The Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships ever built. The gargantuan vessel will offer a series of seven night round trips from May through October. She will be by far the biggest ship to offer an extended cruise season in these waters and, with a passenger capacity in excess of 6,000, she will also offer roughly half as many berths again as her nearest rival. Should be interesting.

Pompeii's remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Pompeii’s remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Plus, next year will also mark the inaugural Med season for the new Costa flagship, the Costa Diadema. Due to debut this autumn, the ship is the biggest ever built by Carnival for the Italian franchise.

And, it has to be added, a few other players will stay their hands as regards dramatic new announcements until Seatrade. Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival, is on record as saying that the line might possibly return to Europe in 2015. Given that the newest Carnival ship- Carnival Vista- will not emerge from her Italian builders yard until 2016, the smart money would be on one of the Dream class trio coming back to the Mediterranean, though probably not the Baltic.

Though the numbers of ships being deployed are not really up on the 2012 figures, it is pretty obvious that nearly all of the major lines still see Europe as the prime arena for showcasing their new ships. Beside the big ticket, first time deployments in Southampton, Princess Cruises are also bringing over the huge Caribbean Princess and, for the first time ever, the line is offering an all inclusive drinks package in the fare.

So the European catwalk (cruisewalk?) season of 2015 looks like being quite a floor show, with each of the entrants bearing all the traits and positive selling points- both real and imagined- of their respective sponsors. One thing there will be no shortage of is choice.

Stay tuned.

INTRODUCING BRITANNIA, AND A NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM

Southampton's legendary Bargate

Southampton’s legendary Bargate

It was the announcement that surprised almost no one in the end, but it still managed to excite a vast flotilla of cruise fans. Royal Caribbean International will homeport Anthem of the Seas, the second of it’s new Project Sunshine series, in Southampton from 2015.

The arrival of this fabulous ship sets up an interesting potential duel with the rival P&O Cruises, with the 2015 advent of that company’s own Britannia, a very slightly smaller vessel. Built on the same platform as Royal Princess, she will be the largest purpose built ship ever introduced to the UK cruise market.

Anthem of the Seas will replace the longstanding UK stalwart, Independence of the Seas, after near on five years of sailing from the Hampshire port. Britannia, by contrast, merely augments the already formidable P&O line up currently homeported there.

With her new facilities such as the already hotly anticipated North Star capsule, her dodgem cars and virtual balcony cabins, Anthem continues the Royal Caribbean trend for incorporating dazzling, state of the art new amenities into each successive class of newbuild. By contrast, Britannia will be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary; a continuation of a popular, easily embraced product and palette enshrined on all of her fleetmates still in service. While the Anthem will scream about her superlative new style and facilities, Britannia will not be screaming at all, thank you very much.

Is there room for both? Well, both lines will be naturally bullish about their new builds, and Royal Caribbean are also retaining the popular Adventure of the Seas on the Southampton roster as well. But in a revealing little insight not so long ago, Norwegian head honcho, Kevin Sheehan, said categorically that the company thought it impractical to dedicate a ship to a permanent UK homeport in the near future.

The port is no stranger to famous past residents

The port is no stranger to famous past residents

Now, whether this is a totally financial decision, or whether it simply reflects the hard fact that Norwegian currently has less tonnage to shuffle around than Royal Caribbean, I honestly do not know. But I do know that, once both Anthem of the Seas and Britannia enter service, it is going to give Southampton a year round roster of superships, unseen even at the highlight of the ocean liner era in the late 1950’s.

What is for sure is that there will never be a better time to embark on a big ship, sailing from what is still the premier UK passenger port. The choice is nothing short of monumental, with the Cunard trio on hand to augment their P&O fleet mates, plus seasonal summer deployments from the likes of Princess and MSC. That company is also debuting the mighty MSC Magnifica in Southampton for a few cruises next year. How long before one of these newer, bigger vessels replaces the current, stalwart MSC Opera on a permanent basis?

Fred. Olsen also maintains a presence with Balmoral, practically the only mid sized ship sailing regularly from Southampton. So far as we know, no one else has plans to homeport smaller ships there, save for the already present, graceful swans of P&O.

The next few seasons should be interesting. Will the new ships result in overkill in a market that has still vastly depressed prices? Will Sheehans’ side swerve look like sound business? Remember that Norwegian had a ship based in Dover each summer for twelve seasons, before withdrawing altogether in 2011. And, of course, Southampton has infrastructure challenges- rail, road and hotel accommodation- to address as well.

For sure, it is a time of giants, one unseen in any British port before. Almost all of these mega ships can accommodate half as many passengers again as such Southampton legends as the Queens, the United States, or even the venerable, beloved old Canberra. A unique convocation of cruising hardware, wrapped in different shades of style and substance.