MARCO POLO RETURNS TO MONTREAL FOR 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS

A very special welcome awaits CMV’s veteran Marco Polo when she arrives in Montreal next Thursday as the highlight of her 50th anniversary cruise.

The 22,000 ton, 1965 built vessel was a regular caller to the Canadian port during her days as the Alexander Pushkin, sailing for the Russian merchant marine. The ship sailed a frequent transatlantic service between Leningrad  (now Saint Petersburg once more) and Montreal from 1966 onwards.

However, this is the first time that the storied cruise liner has been back since her renaissance as the Marco Polo and, in honour of the occasion, the Canadian authorities are rolling out the red carpet for what promises to be a very special occasion.

The Marco Polo is expected to receive the full, ceremonial fire float and siren welcome when she makes her way up the Saint Lawrence into port on the morning of Thursday, August 13th. Once she has docked, the ship will then host a special, on board lunch for representatives from both Port of Montreal and Tourism Montreal, as well as some sixty local dignitaries and media people.

Following the lunch, a special film detailing the ship’s long and unique history will be screened on board.

For the 800 passengers already on board Marco Polo for the long since sold out sailing- around 500 of whom are members of CMV’s regular Compass Club repeat cruisers- the festivities will begin the night before, with a special Gala Dinner on board, prior to the spectacular fireboat serenade on arrival the next day.

So popular has this commemorative voyage proved that a second special, round trip sailing to Canada has been arranged for September. And the exercise will also be repeated during the 2016 season.

These nostalgic, round trip crossings offer almost the only opportunities anywhere to cross the Atlantic on a real, purpose built ocean liner. With a combination of long, lazy sea days and the sheer, stunning beauty of a voyage along the famous Saint Lawrence seaway, it is hardly surprising that they have sold so well.

And, in related news, CMV has also announced that their popular Astor will make a fourth, consecutive round trip liner voyage to and from in Australia in November 2016, after a trio of sell out sailings with the ship.

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

CMV GOES WORLDWIDE; MAGELLAN TO MAKE LINE’S INAUGURAL WORLD CRUISE IN 2017

In something of a surprise move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages has laid out details for a first ever world cruise for 2017. Utilising the newly refurbished Magellan, the ambitious, four month long global odyssey will sail from Tilbury on January 5th, 2017, and return to the Essex port on the following May 5th.

In between, the 46,052 ton, 1,250 passenger Magellan- originally built as the Holiday for Carnival back in 1985- will cut an ambitious furrow through some of the most magnificent, remote and remarkable waters on earth, showcasing an entire conga line of must see highlights including the Azores, the Panama Canal, and the highlights of French Polynesia.

Then it’s on to Australasia, and the fantastic cultural melting pots of the Far East, followed by India and a Red Sea transit, before a final series of adventures around the Holy Land, and a last, languid sweep through the springtime Mediterranean, prior to returning to the UK.

In addition to the grand event itself, a series of no less than nine, separate fly cruise sectors have been provisionally pencilled in. These will allow passengers to board and leave the Magellan at a whole raft of signature ‘greatest hits’ ports including Auckland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, Australia.

Thus far, five of the ports en route are offered with an overnight stay on board. These are; Cairns, Hong Kong, Phu My for Ho Chi Minh city, Singapore, and Sydney.

For single passengers, this voyage represents an excellent bargain, with rates coming in at £13, 269. Twin saver rates come in from around £8,999- roughly equivalent to around £75 per day per person. This is on sale as of now.

Although Cruise and Maritime has run several longer cruises to both the Amazon and the Caribbean with both Magellan and Marco Polo- plus a series of ongoing, old style ‘liner’ voyages with the Astor- this first, world cruise is an enormously significant statement of intent from a company still not yet a decade old.

Magellan herself offers some 726 cabins, all of a good size, and a vast amount of open deck space, as well as an entire, interior, window walled boulevard of shops, bars and clubs. And, with a trio of dining venues on board, the ship- recently extensively renovated- could very well prove to be a formidable new competitor, especially for the no-fly types wanting to take a little ‘slice of home’ with them as they voyage around the globe.

Interesting development, for sure. As ever, pray stay tuned.

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan's stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan’s stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

SHIPS GOING NOWHERE? DEUTSCHLAND AND A SUPPORTING CAST

Are some lines moving ahead faster than others this year?

Are some lines moving ahead faster than others this year?

The last couple of weeks have seen a blizzard of new, very positive announcements in the mega ship market from the likes of MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian and, of course, most recently Carnival.

In addition, the mid size, upscale market has had cause to celebrate with the keel laying of a superb new vessel for Regent Seven Seas, plus the acquisition of a fourth of the original ‘R’ class vessels by Oceania. The exciting new Viking Star is imminent. And, in just a few months, Windstar is set to showcase the pair of lavishly refurbished ex-Seabourn yachts that are being added to the fleet.

In so many ways, it seems like ‘full speed ahead’ for the industry. But, while all of the developments listed above are welcome and to be lauded, somewhere in between, other ships seem to be slipping, forgotten and neglected, between the cracks in the sweeping media spotlights.

What, for instance, of Deutschland? Last linked with a bizarre takeover by Crystal Cruises, the former Peter Deilmann stalwart- one of the most beautiful, stunningly decorated ships ever built- is still swinging idly at anchor off Gibraltar. There were stated to be between two to four buyers interested in purchasing her only two months ago. Now, the sound of silence is deafening,

And what of Gemini?

Last known to be laid up in Tilbury following her stint as a hotel ship during the 2012 London Olympics, the trim little cruise liner seems to have donned some kind of cosmic invisibility cloak. No one seems to know who-if anyone- might be interested in this lovely little ship, built as relatively recently as 1992.

And no word, either, from Portuscale Cruises after stories began to circulate that the partially refurbished, 1955 built Lisboa had been put up for sale, appearing on at least one shipbroker’s sales list. The ship is said to be mechanically sound, with some work needed on the bridge instruments. Many are thinking that her future is not looking good and, par for the course, Portuscale has been typically recitent to say anything, A state of affairs that serves only to confuse the issue further.

On the plus side, the similar sized (20,000 ton) Astor has found a happy home with Cruise and Maritime Voyages, who will also continue to operate the veteran, 1948 built Azores and, of course, the superb, 1965 built Marco Polo. That ship celebrates a well deserved 50th anniversary this summer.

The latter news is a welcome glimmer of light in what seems like an otherwise constant parade of smaller, more intimate cruise ships to the scrapyard. And their demise, while perhaps understandable from an economic point of view, deprives the industry as a whole of some of the charming, quirky diversity that used to be integral to its make up.

In the midst of all the welcome news about the big ships, some more positive developments in the smaller ship sector would be very welcome as well.

And should any such news transpire, it will be recounted right here as it comes in.

My advice? As always, stay tuned.

CRUISE AND MARITIME EXPANDS INTO GERMAN MARKET

Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

In a move officially announced today, Cruise And Maritime Voyages has announced the acquisition of the German operator, Transocean.

This gives the hitherto UK focused company an inroad into the potentially lucrative German market. As it stands, Transoceam has interests in both river and ocean cruising.

The beginnings of an understanding were reached last winter, when Cruise And Maritime chartered the 21,000 ton MS Astor from Transocean for an initial season of Australia and Pacific sailings, mainly from Fremantle. That arrangement had already been reconfirmed for winter 2014-15, prior to today’s announcement.

With immediate effect, this means that Cruise And Maritime will now assume marketing and promoting the 2014 programme of Astor cruises in Europe this year. In all, the well regarded ship, recently refurbished, will be offering some fourteen cruises between May and October, mainly sailing from Hamburg and Kiel, before she returns to Australia in November.

It also gives Cruise And Maritime a quartet of river vessels; Belvedere, with 176 passengers, the 150 passenger Bellefleur, Bellejour, with 180 passengers, and the smaller, 80 passenger  Sans Souci. 

Between them, this quartet operates across the Rhone, the Moselle, Danube, Main, Rhine, Neckar and Elbe, Oder, and Saone river networks.

The four German river boats, as well as the ocean going Astor, will continue to be advertised to the lucrative German market, though with some increasing international representation. Recently, Cruise And Maritime has opened offices in both Fort Lauderdale and Sydney.

The company also recently dipped a toe into the UK river cruise market, with the acquisition of the premium grade Vienna 1 for cruises on the Rhine. As with many products in the increasingly lucrative river cruising market, Cruise And Maritime fares include flights, transfers, all excursions, and on board wine or beer with dinner each evening.

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon....

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon….

On the deep ocean cruising front, Cruise And Maritime operates a brace of highly respected ‘ladies of a certain age’, in the shape of the veteran Marco Polo and the highly popular MV Discovery. Despite their lack of balconies and alternative restaurants, the two ships continue to book briskly, and have proved popular additions to the UK cruising roster.

This for now probably marks the limit of Cruise And Maritime’s expansion in terms of ocean cruising. There simply are not too many candidates about that fit the line’s preferred style of classic, ocean liner style voyaging on the market these days.

However, the river cruise market could be another matter altogether. And, no doubt, the line is looking at the possibility of some cross over trade between the ocean and river components. It makes for a whole raft of intriguing possibilities.

As always, stay tuned.

ASTOUNDING ASTOR SUMMER CRUISES IN 2014

Astor is sailing to the crown jewels of the summertime Baltic

Astor is sailing to the crown jewels of the summertime Baltic

Following in from her inaugural winter season sailing ‘down under’ for UK based Cruise And Maritime Voyages, the popular, 1981- built Astor will be returning to German company, Transocean, for an extensive season of summer voyages, before returning back to CMV for a second season in the Antipodes next winter.

After her return from her winter cruising season, the 21,000 ton Astor will be sailing for the German market, primarily from the ports of Kiel and Bremerhaven. All told, Astor will offer a series of fourteen cruises between May and October.

These cover everything from a one off, one night party cruise to a spectacular, thirty seven day voyage to and from Germany to Quebec, via the scenic highlights of Greenland. This can be also taken as a fly cruise one way, either to or from Canada.

In between, the ship sails to the summer highlights of the North Cape and the Norwegian Fjords, and also undertakes a string of cruises up into the Baltic. A fourteen night trip in May will highlight the British Isles, taking the shapely, beautifully styled German stalwart to ports such as Liverpool, Belfast, Edinburgh and Harwich. A second, shorter, nine night itinerary at the end of August includes visits to Milford Haven, Southampton, and St. Peter Port.

There’s also a unique opportunity to sample the Astor on a two day, one night ‘party cruise’ in Hamburg itself, sailing on August 2nd.

On November 5th 2014, Astor reverts to Cruise And Maritime, and embarks passengers at Tilbury for an epic voyage ‘down under’ that finally terminates in Fremantle on December 13th. The Astor sails via Le Havre, Lisbon, Tenerife and Ascension Island, then continues on to Cape Town, where she is due to arrive on November 26th.

To the quintessential highlights of Quebec

To the quintessential highlights of Quebec

From there, the Astor swings out across the South Pacific via Durban, Reunion and Mauritius, before finally arriving in Fremantle. From the western Australian port, the ship then embarks on a second season of cruises to the highlights of the South Pacific.

Astor is also offering the option of disembarking in Cape Town on this voyage,offering a one off chance in recreating the elegant heyday of the famous Union Castle Line.

This busy little ship offers one of the most extensive and interesting schedules of any ship afloat in 2014. From the icy vastness of Greenland and the stunning beauty of Canada’s Saint Lawrence Seaway, Astor takes in the secluded splendour of small Baltic enclaves like Visby, and the eternal grandeur of St. Petersburg. Fold in the Canary Islands and the stunning tableau of Cape Town’s famous bay en route to brash, breezy Fremantle, and you have a globe trotting little adventurer that literally takes on the world.

CRUISE AND MARITIME- SMALL BUT SWEET

Cruise and Maritime can show you the beauty of Ibiza

Cruise and Maritime can show you the beauty of Ibiza

Cruise and Maritime is a relative newcomer to the UK cruising scene, but in a few short years it has managed to acquire a trio of smaller, extremely comfortable ‘ladies of the sea’ of a certain vintage, Marketed successfully to a clientele that is naturally averse to the current generation of glittering, Vegas- style mega ships, it also offers a summertime series of sailing from different home ports around the country. As with their rival, Fred. Olsen, this has proved to be a winning formula.

There is a lot of flexibility in the company schedules, from overnight repositioning cruises to gargantuan, thirty two night round trip cruises to the Caribbean and back. And, with this winter season’s charter of the small, beautifully styled Astor, Cruise and Maritime now offers the welcome option to sail to and from Australia and South Africa over the winter months; a real boon for those averse to airports and flying in general.

The company’s trio of swells consists of the aforementioned Astor, a stylish lady of 21,000 tons with a graceful, swept back funnel and some gorgeous tiered decks at the stern. Discovery is the former Island Princess, also around 20,000 tons. With light, airy interiors and a sliding glass roof over her central lido pool, she is ideal for cruises in northern waters in the long summer nights.

Perhaps best known is the Marco Polo, a wonderful, typically styled liner, suffused in bow to stern art deco, and blessed with a wonderful series of cascading, upper deck terraces at the stern. A similar size to her fleetmates, her capacity of around 800 passengers is also on a par with the other two ships. And, like them, she offers a uniformity of product across the board.

Visit Honfleur on a Cruise and Maritime city break

Visit Honfleur on a Cruise and Maritime city break

Common to all three of the Cruise and Maritime ships is a warm, intimate atmosphere, and food, service and entertainment geared towards a predominantly older, UK market. There are very few balcony cabins on any of the ships, and extra tariff restaurants are a complete no-no here.

What you do get is a good value, solid product that will take you to some fascinating places, at a genuinely good price point. The exception is the single cabins, which are typically twice the rate of a double, and something the company needs to address in light of aggressive discounting by rivals.

Both Discovery and Marco Polo shift bases around the country during the summer, sailing from ports such as Bristol, Edinburgh, Harwich and Newcastle, as well as the main, year round base of Tilbury. The Essex port has a dedicated coach connection from London Victoria for all sailings, and is also easily reached  by rail from anywhere in the UK via London’s Fenchurch Street station.

Cruise and Maritime is a real alternative to the mega ships of Cunard and P&O. The ships are charming and evocative, well run, and offer a whole raft of optional itineraries. You can even spend the evening on board Marco Polo pierside in Tilbury, and enjoy drinks, dinner and a floorshow on board. This is a great way to get the ‘feel’ of the ship without going overboard on the finances.

Shell Beach, Saint Barts. Go there with Cruise and Maritime's winter escape

Shell Beach, Saint Barts. Go there with Cruise and Maritime’s winter escape

I particularly recommend some of the short, two to five day short cruises offered by Marco Polo, many of which are ideal for visiting some of Northern Europe’s more appealing Christmas markets, such as Antwerp and Ghent. These are also ideal pick me ups, and they also offer the opportunity to see and discover some new and very attractive cities at a good price point. Add in the attractions of a secure, largely all inclusive environment, and the value becomes obvious.

Best of all, there’s also no worries on the amount of personal luggage you can bring back with you, so you can shop to your heart’s- and your wallet’s- content. Enjoy.