PULLMANTUR’S ZENITH IN REEF INCIDENT

CNV00029

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for further news.

DOWN MEXICO WAY- THE NORWEGIAN SUN

Slowly, like a patient coming out of a long term coma, the market for cruises to the Mexican Riviera is beginning to revive. And, in the opinion of many, that’s not before time.

As winter sun destinations go, the seven day ‘Riviera Runs’ that sail round trip from Los Angeles are a pretty compelling alternative to the overcrowded winter hugger mugger of the Caribbean, though the latter certainly has better guaranteed weather. Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas form a pretty compelling troika of ‘greatest hits’ ports of call, ranged against the smoky blue sprawl of the Sierra Madre mountains, that offer a very different experience to their vibrant Caribbean counterparts.

Yes, the beaches are wonderful, and the Margaritas are fantastic, frosty confections found almost everywhere. But the pace is less frenetic- a consequence of it being much, much, less crowded. And, of course, the truly star struck have the pre- cruise option of venturing out on star spotting safaris in La-La Land. Pretty good, eh?

But for something a bit more, well, inclusive, I’m really taken by some of the Mexican Riviera cruise being run by Norwegian Cruise Line this fall. They combine departures from my favourite California city- San Diego- with eleven nights’ aboard my favourite ship in the Norwegian fleet- the always excellent, hugely under rated Norwegian Sun.

The company never promotes this wonderful ship to anything like the same degree as her newer siblings, but she has always been something of a trailblazer. And that reputation is freshly enhanced with these new cruises that really do give you more of Mexico than simply the banner ports of call.

For many years, Acapulco was the gem of the Riviera. In the so called ‘Swinging Sixties’ it was perceived as one of the most glamorous resort cities in the world. Time and tide chipped away at that carefully applied make up, and the city became almost a no go zone by the late nineties.

Now, freshly powdered, tidied up and inherently more appealing than it has been in many a long decade, Acapulco is back on the menu- at least for the Norwegian Sun and her passengers. I suspect this might be the first of many returning vessels over the next few years, as Pacific Mexico begins to aggressively assert itself to the cruise industry once more.

Also on the menu is a call at the beach resort of Ixtapa, and a full, two day call at fun filled, bohemian Cabo San Lucas, a place that feels in parts like a Pacific version of Key West. Also on the menu are both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, those other two members of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Mexican coastal ports.

Combined with an option to spend a few days getting reacquainted with cool, classy San Diego, these longer, more in depth cruises on the always excellent Norwegian Sun could well be the perfect cure for your looming winter blues.

I know fine well that they may very well be the cure for mine. Anyone else in?

The Norwegian Sun in the Caribbean

The Norwegian Sun in the Caribbean

HARMONY, PERFECT HARMONY; THREE FOR ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Royal Caribbean International has finally announced that it’s third Oasis class behemoth, Harmony Of The Seas, will deploy on year round Caribbean cruises when she enters service in 2016.

Many people assumed that the 227,000 ton ship would head out to Asia as the trump card in RCCL’s voracious empire building pack. But other counsels have decreed that the huge ship will go to the Caribbean instead.

She will replace first of class Oasis Of The Seas on the lucrative, seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings out of Fort Lauderdale, joining twin sister ship, Allure Of The Seas, on alternating week long circuits. Oasis Of The Seas herself will move a few miles north to Port Canaveral to inaugurate a series of similar sailings.

Though it seems a foregone conclusion that one of these monster ships will now sail the Mediterranean each summer, winters will still see this formidable trio running the seven day circuits from Florida. And, whatever your feelings on mega ships in general, there is no disputing the monumental scale and sheer, organisatioanl wizardry involved in such a programme.

Consider this; three ships, totalling over three quarters of a million tons collectively, discharging and embarking some thirty-six thousand passengers, week in and out, over a six month season. On any level, this is an operation thought out- and carried through- with almost miltary precision, as the precisely co-ordinated sailings of both Oasis and Allure from Fort Lauderdale can testify.

Having invested a fortune in infrastructure over the last few years, the burghers of Port Canaveral must be clapping their hands with glee at at an eagerly anticipated footfall of some twelve thousand cruise passengers a week from the Oasis Of The Seas, not to mention the knock on effect for local shops, hotels, transportation and entertainment venues.

Of course, may wil simply roll their eyes and say that this is just one more mega ship feeding more fuel to an already overcrowded winter Caribbean season. For sure, there is not much in the way of real variety in thr destination offerings of any of the three ships.

But that misses the point, because these three ships- the largest sister ships ever built- are destinations in their own right; enormous floating theme parks, small islands that combine the best of Vegas with all the comfort, ease and spectacular dining and accommodation that you could possibly want.

Not very ‘adventurous’ for sure; but package all that up and dangle it in front of some denizen of New York, Boston or Toronto in the depths of a freezing winter, and the lure is magnetic. Not to mention the allure- pardon the pun- that those vast, sun drenched hulls, carousing around the Caribbean in winter- hold for a whole armada of sun deprived Europeans.

One thing is for sure; Royal Caribbean know exactly what they are doing by sending this third huge, enormous floating city to the sunshine of the sultry Caribbean.

Harmony Of The Seas is Caribbean bound in 2016

Harmony Of The Seas is Caribbean bound in 2016

.

THE ORIGINAL SOVEREIGN- 25 NOT OUT

ImageShe was the world’s first true, purpose built mega cruise ship. It was twenty-five years ago, back in January 1988, when the Sovereign of The Seas first swept into Miami, and began a glittering career that would completely revolutionize contemporary cruising.

ImageEvery modern cruise ship built since owes its existence at least in part to her, and her two later sisters. The vast, white Sovereign proved that huge cruise ships could operate to reasonable economies of scale, while still delivering a first rate product, and all the facilities of a resort hotel.

ImageAt 73,000 tons and just under 900 foot long, she was exceeded in size only by her great rival, the SS.Norway. But the new ship came with a new set of firsts; for a start, the great bulk of the cabins were situated in the forward half of the ship, and the public rooms were aft, piled up in a kind of  ‘layer cake’ effect.

ImageThe boundary between these came in the form of the most beautiful, stunning atrium lobby that had ever gone to sea. A full five stories high and trimmed in brass, marble and glass, it fanned out from the middle and created an amazing communal area, one quite unlike anything seen anywhere before. And it became the benchmark for all new cruise ships for the two decades that followed.

ImageEverything about the Sovereign was pristine, beautifully styled. Built by the same legendary St. Nazaire shipyard as the Normandie and Norway, the new ship featured a wonderful, flared bow and a beautiful, knuckled cruise stern. Snow white and immaculate, she was a stunning vision to behold, topped by the famous, glass walled ‘viking crown’ lounge that crouched midway up her funnel, like some mildly curious flying saucer.

ImageHer debut preceded the subsequent balcony craze, and she initially had none at all. The small, interior cabins were functional, and the outer ones not much larger. In those days, the company’s motto was ‘Get Out There’. By which they meant; get out of those small cabins, hit the bars and casino, and spend time-and money- enjoying your vacation.

ImageAnd what a vacation it was. There was a vast lido area, complete with two large pools and sit up bar, between the main mast and the funnel. Even when she was full with over 2300 passengers- and that was often- the Sovereign still gave the illusion of being far more spacious than was actually the case.

ImageShe was an immediate, resounding success, and settled into many happy, profitable years on the seven day, Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami. By early 1992, she had been joined by a pair of almost identical siblings, Monarch of The Seas and Majesty of the Seas. Royal Caribbean was surfing a class ten rated roller of success, and the good times seemed never ending.

ImageBut this new class of ship had triggered a gigantic race, and arch rivals Carnival, soon responded with their own version, the Fantasy class (see previous blogs). On board gimmicks and sensationalism became the order of the day. and more so with each new addition.

ImageOne by one, the three graceful, white sisters were overhauled. A string of sixty-two upper deck balcony cabins was added to each. Later, all three ships would also get a branch of Johnny Rockets, the popular fifties retro diner, on one of the upper decks.

ImageIt was no longer enough to compete with the bigger, more modern and amenity laden ships being rolled out by their rivals. All three sisters found themselves relegated to short, three and four night cruises out of Miami to the Bahamas. For a few years, Monarch of The Seas sailed on similar short cruises from Los Angeles.

ImageBut, with Royal Caribbean now almost awash with new, mind boggling floating resorts, all three ships were clearly on borrowed time. However, they would be kept in the ‘family’ as distant cousins.

ImageRCCL’s buy out of Pullmantur, the all inclusive, budget Spanish cruise line, gave the company a year round foothold in the lucrative, Spanish speaking market. And with the transfer of Sovereign to the Pullmantur brand, that company gained its first ever mega ship.

ImageNow, after a couple of winter seasons in Brazil, the ship- her name handily shortened to simple Sovereign– does year round, seven night Mediterranean cruises out of Barcelona, on two separate routes. Her once snow white hull is now a fetching dark blue, but she is still instantly familiar as the original, pioneering mega cruise ship. She seems to be doing quite well in her new role.

ImagePullmantur is not quite up to speed. The crippling Spanish recession has hit the company hard. Without Royal Caribbean’s protective financial cover, it would almost certainly have collapsed. Sensibly, the company is now sourcing passengers from beyond its original Spanish base. With cheap prices and an all inclusive upgrade as standard, these cruises are a great buy.

ImageRecently, second-of-class Monarch rejoined her sister at Pullmantur, and will soon operate seven night Caribbean cruises out of Aruba. Majesty, the sole survivor of the original RCCL trio, is set to make the move to a Latin groove next year.

So, here’s to the rather splendid Sovereignnow twenty-five, but still not yet out. I hope this lovely, still proud and elegant ship can go on making thousands of new passengers happy for many years to come.

Disclaimer: in the interests of clarity, I should state that all the pictures in this blog are of the Majesty of The Seas, the near-identical sister to Sovereign.