EMPRESS OF THE SEAS IS MIAMI BOUND

CNV00022

Empress of the Seas is returning to the warm, welcoming waters of the Caribbean and Bahamas for 2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that it’s soon to be re-integrated Empress of the Seas is to be based in Miami.

The 48,000 ton ship is returning to RCI after an eight year spell sailing as the Empress for Pullmantur, the troubled Spanish offshoot of RCI, in Europe.

Beginning in March 2016, the Empress of the Seas will embark on a series of short three, four and five night cruises to destinations such as Nassau, Key West, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman and the company’s private island of Coco Cay, in the Bahamas.

Key selling points of the ship’s programme will be an earlier, expedited embarkation time from 110 onward, and a number of overnight stays in Cozumel on the longer, five night run. At present, she is the only ship out of Miami to offer such an option.

The vessel is being sold as very much a party experience rather than an in depth, cultural expedition ship of any kind. She will also undergo a refurbishment before returning to service, though exact specifics are few at this time.

At present, these short cruises are being sold as year round options. But speculation remains rife that Empress of the Seas may, in time, return to her old summer programme of seven night Bermuda cruises from New York- a role in which she was hugely popular in the late nineties.

Stay tuned for any updates.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

CNV00098

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.

CNV00018

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.

CNV00062

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

CNV00022

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.

 

 

 

 

 

NINE IN A ROW AS EURODAM ACES USPH INSPECTION

CNV00029

Holland America blends traditional ocean going luxe with modern standards of cleanliness and hygiene

Holland America Line’s MS Eurodam scored an unparalleled, ninth consecutive 100  per cent cleanliness score in an unscheduled United States Public Inspection (USPH) at Fort Lauderdale on October 25th.

The 86,000 ton, 2,100 guest Eurodam was in the course of a turn around for a seven day Western Caribbean cruise. As it happens, this blogger was one of the 2,100 passengers embarking that day.

Holland America Line ships have always been historically spick and span. Back in the 1920’s, the well travelled wit and raconteur, Basil Woon, wrote in his book, The Frantic Atlantic, that ‘a speck of dirt on a Dutch ship might be enough to make the Chief Steward commit suicide.’

Despite this magnificent achievement- and I can personally attest that this snap inspection resulted in none of the  embarkation delays sometimes associated with USPH inspections at Fort Lauderdale on October 25th- Eurodam is far from unique in the Holland America fleet for attaining a perfect score.

In recent years, fleet mates Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam, Ryndam, Statendam, and Veendam have also hit 100 per cent score rates. This year alone, some six vessels across the fleet have been given some nine perfect scores. Statendam and Ryndam have since left the Holland America fleet to begin new careers as part of the P&O Australia cruise fleet.

Well done to all concerned, This represents a truly epic achievement by all departments on board what I can personally testify is, indeed, an immaculately well kept and staffed vessel.

EURODAM PART TWO; A HALF MOON RISING

Sometimes, it really is better in the Bahamas......

Sometimes, it really is better in the Bahamas……

What a day for a daydream; what a day for a daydreaming boy..”

Daydream; The Loving Spoonful, 1966. Lyrics by John Sebastian.

There were many things I was looking forward to about my cruise on the Eurodam. And returning to Holland America Line’s ‘private island’ of Half Moon Cay was right at the top of the list.

The Bahamian outpost is actually a part of Little San Salvador, one of a series of some seven hundred islands sprinkled like stepping stones amid the sparkling azure hue of the ocean. Carnival Corporation- the parent company of Holland America-bought the island for something like six million dollars in December, 1996, and promptly proceeded to develop an area of roughly fifty acres into a kind of ‘catch all’ day break destination for passengers cruising the Caribbean.

Geographically, Half Moon Cay lies some one hundred miles to the south east of Nassau, the capital of the Bahama Islands. But, in terms of crowds, temperament and tempo, it is practically on another planet entirely.

So successful has Half Moon Cay become that it is now also a prime destination of choice for vessels of the parent Carnival Corporation. And, when you see this sizzling, sultry little gemstone, the reasons for that success are instantly apparent.

Half Moon Cay is strictly low rise in appearance, but sky high in terms of stunning visual impact. The entree is a perfectly hewn, semi circular arc of tissue soft, powder white sand lapped by almost supine, electric blue waters- a literal Half Moon, as it happens. Beyond this, clearly marked winding trails lined with hibiscus, frangipani and rows of deep, vibrant shrubbery, form a backdrop inhabited by local wildfowl, making the whole area ideal for nature lovers and ramblers.

We came bumbling ashore from the Eurodam on tenders, in itself a thrilling enough entree to what lay ahead. While many passengers do not enjoy the tendering experience, I am one of those people that have always savoured it as a kind of spray tinged appetizer to the fun and frolics awaiting ashore. It certainly hones the anticipation to knife point sharpness for me.

Meanwhile, para gliders flit across the sky like so many skittish butterflies. Jet skis roar and splutter across the sparkling briny like scampering water beetles. From the nearby barbecue- literally unloaded from the ship and cooked ashore- the smell of jerk chicken, burgers, and a whole other conga line of goodies floods the fresh, mid morning air.

Half Moon Cay is essentially a surreal, sweetly scented netherworld; a kind of idealised dream destination. Shorn of the need to do anything more demanding than grab another Margarita from any of the numerous bars that sprinkle the landscape, you sag with pathetic gratitude into a kind of submissive, smiley stupor once ashore. In an ideal world, every day would truly be like this.

After a while, wading through the tame, milk warm surf while holding a drink and talking to friends just became so- normal. Further along the expanse of that flawless beach, other passengers lolled in seafront cabanas, while others rode horses through the same surf that we strolled with such indolent indifference.

And yes, we could have gone deep sea fishing, or possibly have taken a glass boat ride to take in the stunning smorgasbord of underwater coral. We could have gone kayaking, sail boating, or we could even have hauled ourselves aboard a Hobie catamaran. And, for those so inclined, there was certainly no shortage of water toys to frolic with on that sparkling, sun kissed ocean.

But that would have involved making a conscious effort. One involving actual motivation on a day when, well, the sun was in the sky, the beer was cold, and the sand was just so damned warm between my toes. And yes, I folded. First world problems, eh?

Even the palm trees seemed to be saying ‘chill out’ as they danced an idle, soporific skit against a backdrop of clouds that drifted by like so many giant, ghostly galleons of old. And, through a filter of reggae and old sixties tunes, the words of that old John Sebastian classic, quoted at the start of this article, came flooding back to remind me of the day’s really urgent, to do business.

So, another Margarita it is. Reality? A damned interesting concept.

But not today, thank you. No sir, not today.

EURODAM: GOING DUTCH THE FUN WAY

Holland America blends traditional ocean going luxe with modern maritime excellence

Holland America blends traditional ocean going luxe with modern maritime excellence

There are some ships that you just fall in love with at first sight.

For me, that was the case with Holland America Line’s gorgeous Eurodam. The great HAL flagship was docked behind us in mid summer in Germany’s port of Warnemunde, at the start of a really memorable circuit of the Baltic on the venerable Marco Polo- no mean looker herself, as it happens.

In the high summer sun, the Eurodam was a towering, triumphant revelation. Sunlight danced across her dazzling, royal blue hull and her serried tiers of balconies. The prow- far more tapered and graceful than I expected- was a thing of supine beauty.

Smitten at once, I knew right there and then that I wanted to go on that ship.

A little over four months later, I stared up at that same, stately prow in the warm, welcoming sun of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. But this time, my view would be much more up close and personal.

Hours later, and I’m standing on board the Eurodam as she surges majestically out into the open sea, past rows of spindly, soporific palm tress waving idly in the fall Florida breeze. The siren booms out a sonorous, beautifully pitched farewell to the Sunshine State as a handful of well wishers wave from the shore. And off we go, standing out into the balmy, welcoming waters of the western Caribbean.

Inside, the vast, beautiful ship is spacious, and yet surprisingly intimate. Winding corridors on the public decks, each one carpeted in shades of rich, oriental red, lead the way past a stunning succession of paintings, ancient exhibits, and fresh cut flowers. Everywhere, the priceless heritage of Holland America- one of the most illustrious names in maritime history- suffuses this beautiful ship like a series of benign shades.

There is the head wear, sword and musket of a Spanish conquistador here, and a brace of imperious dragon heads there, glowering at head height with their sightless eyes. Off to starboard, the strains of a plaintive violin floods the lobby with some half forgotten aria. It fills the air with a kind of deft, delicate sound that produces a mild tremor in the soul.

Above the stunning, beautifully scaled lobby bar, the sultry, mellow sounds of a jazz combo mixes with the gentle clinking of pre dinner martinis to produce a rhythm as old as time. Stewards in their smart white jackets deliver trays of canapes and drinks to groups of first night passengers huddled around tables.

Outside, on the long expanse of the bone white promenade deck, a line of proper wooden steamer chairs stands at attention, as perfectly turned out as a parade of the Grenadier Guards. The setting sun falls from the sky like a blazing theatre curtain, turning the entire ocean into what looks like so much smouldering straw. The waves roll lethargically by; they resemble a kind of magical roller coaster, taking the Eurodam off on another, epic ride.

Inside, the sunset vanishes behind rows of deftly drawn drapes. Pools of warm, languid lighting dance across the acres of sparkling glass and brass finery inside. From somewhere, the strains of a sultry bossa nova floats through the ether like stardust.

The first Sunshine Martini from the Pinnacle Grill Lounge hits us like so much healing balm. In the restaurant itself, the delicate, barely audible chink of tables being laid with exquisite china and fine cutlery creates its own subtle, delightful symphony. The food, which we are already eagerly anticipating, will of course be centre stage.

And there we leave her for now. The proud, mighty Eurodam, ablaze with light and chasing a sunset she can never, ever reach. Poised and beautifully polished, the great lady is not one to be hurried by such trivia as time, temperament, or even actual reality.

It is my fervent hope that you will be kind enough to rejoin us for the rest of this wondrous voyage as it unfurls over the next few blogs in this series. Though we are not on the bridge in any sense, it is already plain to most of us on board which way our course is set. We are on an ageless, elegant path in the finest of styles.

It is my great fortune and privilege to be able to share such wonders with you.

NORWEGIAN EPIC EMERGES FROM THREE WEEK DRY DOCKING

Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Fresh from a three week dry docking, the Norwegian Epic left Southampton for Barcelona on Monday to begin a one of a kind season of year round sailings to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands.

The one off ship- unique in the Norwegian fleet- will return to Port Canaveral in the fall of 2016 to operate Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.

On the entertainment front, Norwegian Epic now showcases a new Cavern Club, a homage to the legendary Liverpool venue of the same name, and a new, headlining show in the form of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

In addition, the ship’s Bliss ultra night club was refurbished, together with the Mandara Spa, the library, and the outdoor marketplace. The Epic Theatre, casino and exclusive, upper deck Haven complex also benefited from such additions as new lighting, freshening up of all furniture fabrics, and new artwork.

Dining venues on board such as the Manhattan Room, Moderno Churrascaria, Tastes, Cagney’s, Le Bistro and the Lido, have also been enhanced with new, soft furnishings, decor, and fresh carpeting in places.

On the technical side, Norwegian Epic has taken on board several significant upgrades, including a new pair of propellers and new rudder caps, a fresh coat of hull paint, and enhancements to the lifeboats release mechanisms, as well as some enhancements to the on board refrigeration and storage spaces.

Over the coming winter, Norwegian Epic will cruise from Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean, as well as offering a string of nine night fly cruises to the Canary islands, also sailing from the Catalan port.

Her abrupt return to the Caribbean next fall after just one season in year round Europe cruising came as something of a surprise in certain quarters. From fall of 2016, she will be replaced permanently in that role by Norwegian Spirit- the ship that she was originally brought over to supplant.

None the less, these are interesting times at Norwegian, especially with the looming debut of the Norwegian Escape coming up rapidly on the horizon.

As ever, stay tuned.

CARNIVAL TO RESUME CRUISES FROM MOBILE IN 2016

Carnival has finally made the announcement that everyone was waiting for; a return to cruising from Mobile, Alabama, effective from November 2016.

An initial, one year deal will see the 70,000 ton Carnival Fantasy- currently sailing from Charleston- go to a new home port in Mobile. From there, the 70,000 ton, 2,056 passenger, 1990 built ship will offer a programme of alternating, four and five night cruises to destinations including Progreso, Cozumel, and Costa Maya,

Prior to commencing this rota of high energy Yucatan jaunts, the Carnival Fantasy- the name ship of the eight strong Fantasy class series- will undergo an extensive refit to ready her for her new role and route.

In will come popular Carnival staples such as the Red Frog Pub and Blue Iguana Cantina, as well as the wildly successful Guy Fieri’s burger joint, all of them part of the so called Fun Ship 2.0 programme that has been rolled out across the bulk of the Carnival fleet.

This new schedule begins effective November 9th 2016 and, thus far at least, runs through to November 27, 2017.

What ship will replace the popular Carnival Fantasy sailings from Charleston- if any- has yet to be formally announced, but I would think it most unlikely that Carnival would give up on what has proven to be a popular embarkation port for similar short, port intensive cruises to the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean.

As always, stay tuned.

Carnival is returning to sailings from Mobile from November, 2016

Carnival is returning to sailings from Mobile from November, 2016

HOLA SENOR MOSQUITO!! A FRIENDLY LETTER TO YOU AND YOUR KIND….

Dear Senor Mosquito (and friends)….

It has to be said that we have not enjoyed the greatest of relationships in the past, have we?

Now, I’m not assigning blame or picking fault here but, over the course of several visits to areas inhabited by you and your kin, a number of things have become gradually apparent to me.

It seems that you and your airborne kind regard my exposed white bits as the equivalent of an all you can eat buffet. Little else would explain the way that you seem to hurl yourselves at me like swarms of demented kamikaze bombers on any given day.

You buzz and strafe me ad infinitum as I try and kick back in my hammock on some far away, palm splayed paradise. But you- you put the ‘parasite’ firmly into paradise. And, I am afraid, it is no longer funny or acceptable.

My attempts to swat you away have usually proven to be about as much use as a pair of knickers to a hooker at the start of Fleet Week. I end up exhausted, enraged and, often as not, still get stung.

On occasions, I have even been known to spill my Margarita. And, while even the recording career of Lionel Richie is forgivable in certain quarters, depriving me of my liquid sustenance most certainly is not.

And, just like the credibility of Bill Cosby, my patience is at an end. I am going all Emperor Palpatine on your buzzy little backsides, pal.

This means war and, just to be clear, I am laying down the nuts and bolts of just how I propose to defeat your evil little schemes, once and for all time.

In future, I shall be wearing special headphones in combat zones where your lot are present. These will emit a constant array of One Direction tunes.

A special programme built into these headphones means that I will be spared their inane witterings- a sound only slightly less annoying than yours.

But you will not be so lucky. These songs will play on a frequency guaranteed to send your bony little hides into a tail spin. You will hit the sea like an entire squadron of downed Mitsubishi Zeros, and in very short order.

And-if you think that is all I have in my armoury, think again. Because boys, I am also calling in the Death Star of all mosquito repellents….

Recent trials have revealed that a picture of Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles can drop a swarm of mosquitos at thirty paces. Apparently, it’s all in the stare.

Ever since she married the Prince of Wales and became his awful wedded wife, thousands of pictures have been taken of the woman. No, I don’t know why, either. It’s nowhere near Halloween yet.

But the fact is that one of these photos has fallen into my possession.

I have now had it framed and, believe me, I will put it on a table beside me, facing outwards, everywhere I go. This is your last warning.

I assure you; the woman can make bread go mouldy just by staring at it. What she could do to you lot…..

So, if you still fancy your chances, bring it on.

Love,

Anthony

CNV00036

NORWEGIAN ESCAPE TO BE FLOATED OUT TODAY

Around 1100 this morning, the brand new, 164, 600 ton Norwegian Escape is due to be cautiously floated out from the covered dock in  Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

The enormous ship is the first vessel of the so called Breakaway plus class, due to be rounded out with one more vessel in the same vein- the upcoming Norwegian Bliss.

Today’s carefully co-ordinated float out is a huge milestone in the life of a ship which is already close to completion, in actual fact. Next month, the enormous vessel will be moved a few miles down the River Ems for her final outfitting.

The first crew members will actually board the ship in the next few days, to begin familiarising themselves with the ship and her various operating systems and policies.

Following on from her sea trials, the ship will make a series of short, introductory overnight cruises, as well as holding ‘open house’ for various media events, before she leaves Southampton on her positioning voyage; a ten night cruise over to Miami, pencilled to sail on October 29th.

After initial celebrations and further media hosting on board, the Norwegian Escape will then begin a series of seven night, round trip sailings to the eastern Caribbean, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maartern, Tortola, and Nassau.

Norwegian Cruise Line has quite a lot to smile about lately....

Norwegian Cruise Line has quite a lot to smile about lately….

CUBA CRUISE GOES ALL INCLUSIVE FOR WINTER 2015-16

Cuba Cruise has announced that it will be going all inclusive for the season of winter cruises offered on the Celestyal Crystal this year.

On board prices will now include all shore excursions, plus on board drinks, for the duration of each week long cruise.

Not long ago, Celestyal bought out Cuba Cruises. The Celestyal Crystal will thus begin her third season of Cuba voyages with a 21 night, transatlantic crossing that embarks in Piraeus at the end of November, and terminates in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Each seven night circuit allows for two full days spent on board in Havana, and embarkation is also possible at Montego Bay.

The 24,000 ton Celestyal Crystal typically carries around 600 passengers for the Cuba cruises, with a passenger mix that has been predominantly Canadian and Scandinavian in the past.

This winter also sees the introduction of a rival service, with the first arrival of the MSC Opera in Havana marking the first sailings around Cuba by any of the mainstream mega ships.

In spite of this, the relatively small size of the Celestyal Crystal, combined with the now almost fully inclusive nature of the product, offers a great value way to get ‘up close and personal’ views of the highlights of Cuba, before more mainstream cruise ships start to arrive from the USA; an inevitable fact in view of the formalising of relationships between Cuba and the USA after some five decades of isolation.

Interesting times. As ever. stay tuned.

Celestyal  Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer