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.

CARNIVAL PLANS 2016 DEEP CARIBBEAN CRUISES FOR FASCINATION

In a welcome and surprising move, Carnival Cruise Lines is putting one of its original Fantasy class megaships back on a seven night Caribbean itinerary for the first time in a decade.

Beginning in May of 2016, the 70,000 ton Carnival Fascination will be home ported in Bridgetown, Barbados, to offer a series of very port intensive, seven night sailings to St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, San Juan and St. Thomas, with a final day spent at sea before returning to Barbados.

Built by Kvaerner Masa shipyard in Finland as the Fascination in 1994, the ship was the fourth of the eight ship Fantasy class- the first generation of mega ships to be built for the company.

As new tonnage came on line over the following years, all eight of the ships were relegated to short, three to five night cruise voyages out of ports from Miami out to the west coast. Lacking the balconies and amenities of the new ships, it seemed to be good business to put these less amenity laden ships on shorter cruises.

So it is both surprising and quite nice to see this relatively more intimate, 2,000 passenger Carnival stalwart getting back out and doing some more intensive sailings. Recently, sister ship and first of class Carnival Fantasy has been used again on some seven night Bahamas itineraries out of Charleston, which seem to have been very popular.

For the UK market, these new Carnival Fascination cruises are being bundled in with flights, transfers, and a three night pre cruise hotel stay to provide a very attractive, eleven night cruise and stay option, mainly based on London departures.

I have fond memories of making a pair of four night runs out of Miami on the Fascination a decade or so ago, and found her to be a very snappy, well run ship that served up a great value short trip.

These new runs out of Barbados should prove to be a good option out of Barbados. As ever, stay tuned.

One of the original, pioneering Carnival mega ships is returning to longer, seven night Caribbean cruises.

One of the original, pioneering Carnival mega ships is returning to longer, seven night Caribbean cruises.

NEW VISTAS FOR CARNIVAL IN 2016

Carnival is launching the new Carnival Vista in 2016

Carnival is launching the new Carnival Vista in 2016

The new Carnival Vista will make her maiden American landfall on November 3rd 2016, at the end of a thirteen day voyage from Europe. Leaving Barcelona on October 21st- Trafalgar Day in the UK- the new, 141,000 ton ship will call at Ponta Delgada and make an overnight stop in Bermuda before arriving in the Big Apple. Once there, the new ship-currently under construction at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard- will operate a series of round trip cruises to a series of as yet unspecified ports, before deploying to a yet to be announced home port for 2017.

Prior to this, the first of class vessel- the largest ever built for the Carnival fleet- will operate a series of some eighteen Mediterranean cruises after her delivery from the Trieste shipyard on May 1st, before making her October westbound voyage. Ranging in duration from eight to thirteen nights, many will sail round trip from Barcelona, but there will also be some very interesting grand sweeps across the region, sailing between Barcelona and Athens.

Ports on the menu will include several of the ‘greatest hits’ destinations including Rome, Florence and Valetta, but there will also be maiden calls at destinations such as Corfu as well.

In all, there will be six eight day cruises, a score of ten night itineraries, one twelve night cruise, and a pair of thirteen night voyages, including the westbound crossing to New York in October.

The Carnival Vista is a slightly larger version of the hugely successful Carnival Dream trio, but incorporates several new features of her own, including an amazing aerial track that will allow passengers to pedal around the ship, several two room family cabins, and a first-to-Carnival set of lanai cabins opening out onto the main promenade, complete with front ‘gates’ and hammocks out front.

The ship will also incorporate recent proven favourites, such as the Red Frog pub, this one complete with an on board brewery, plus a larger, upper deck Serenity Zone. Recently released interior renderings reveal a ship that follows the more muted, upscale style of the Dream class, rather than the Warhol-esque style so readily identified with the line’s long term chief interior designer, Joe Farcus.

A lot is riding on this new ship. She will be arriving in an American cruise market where recent new designs from rivals Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have been stealing all the plaudits for quite some time. And, with new offerings yet to come from both of those lines as well, the manner in which Carnival Vista is received by the cruising community could well be pivotal to the entire future operation of Carnival as a whole.

These are interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

REMEMBERING COSTA ALLEGRA

Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

Costa Allegra was one of the most interesting ships I’ve ever sailed on. Originally built as a container ship- the Annie Johnson- back in Finland in 1969, she was acquired by Costa and completely rebuilt as a cruise ship, returning to service in November of 1992.

It was that combination of obvious container ship hull with the commodious trappings of a modern cruise ship that made her so beguiling. Something about her always felt slightly out of kilter. Defining exactly what is as pointless and maddening as trying to nail a cloud to the ground.

The conversion was a brilliant one, and she and her sister, the rebuilt Costa Marina, the ex Axel Johnson, made for quite a pair. In fact, the Allegra differed from her sister; she was lengthened by around forty feet, and her original engines were replaced with new diesels.

They both had the boxy, conventional hull of their container ship origins, with an almost flush decked superstructure that terminated in a wall of glass, three storeys high, at the stern. This was, in fact, the back of the main restaurant, and it is a feature much copied since on many bigger ships. Both ships introduced the triple grouping of aft place funnel structures that was to become the Costa corporate logo, at least until the Carnival takeover; the same design was deliberately incorporated into the three bigger, pre Carnival new builds; Costa Classica, Costa Romantica, and Costa Victoria.

In those days, Costa was still an Italian company in spirit and execution, as well as in name. The interiors of the Costa Allegra reflected the brilliance of Italian interior design; there was a casual, spectacular use of carrara marble throughout the interiors, with much use of glass ceilings and walls to allow natural light to suffuse the ship. Beautiful paintings and random, elegant statuary scattered around the ship gave her a rich, Fellini-esque feel that was a million miles removed from the current line of Farcusian interiors showcased by the current Costa ships. Make no mistake; the Costa Allegra looked and felt a million miles removed from those vessels.

Of course, a lot of that was down to her smaller, far more intimate size. Costa Allegra displaced around 28,500 tons, and had a lower berth capacity of some 820 passengers, based on twin occupancy. These were accommodated in 399 cabins. Ten of the thirteen suites boasted the only private balconies on board.

Interestingly, the inside and outside cabins were of almost identical dimensions, at around 140 square feet each. The Costa Allegra had a vast, central sun deck with a pool and a couple of Jacuzzis. Sunning space stretched, quite literally, right to the stern, where another smaller pool was located.

She was a supremely comfortable, indolent ship for sure. But the Costa Allegra was also something of a snappy roller; I often thought that she would have rolled on damp grass.

Service was smart, polished and generally very attentive. I recall the food as veering towards excellent at times.

The loss of both ships was inevitable in light of the Carnival take over. Following a much publicised power loss near the Seychelles after an on board fire, the proud Costa Allegra suffered the humiliation of having to be towed to safety. This, coming only weeks after the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, helped to seal her fate. After twenty years of sterling service in her second, very unlikely role, the Costa Allegra was scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey in late 2012.

CARNIVAL’S NEW SINGLE SAVER FARES

This now comes cheaper, courtesy of Carnival

This now comes cheaper, courtesy of Carnival

In a move that is sure to make the opposition sit up and take notice, Carnival Cruise Lines has dropped single passengers upplements for a host of Bahamas and Caribbean sailings over the course of 2014.

The sailings cover a range of ports, itineraries and durations. Galveston, Miami, New York and Port Canveral are just some of the principal departure points for the programme of discounted voyages, ranging from three to eight days in all.

Typical prices include an eight night, Caribbean cruise on Carnival Freedom, in a 225 square foot ocean view stateroom from just £419. Shorter breaks include a three night Bahamas jaunt aboard the Carnival Sensation, with an inside room available for just £139.

Fares do not simply cover the older ships, either; they are even available for some departures on the current Carnival flagship, the 130, ooo ton Carnival Breeze, as well as the seasonally New York based Carnival Splendor.

The axing of these single supplements makes the Carnival product a very attractive buy for single passengers; the drop in price goes a long way toward offsetting the negative effects of constantly increasing air passenger duty on transatlantic flights as well.

Carnival has never traditionally built single cabins into its ships, so these fares are an obvious, if belated response to the success of single cabins offered aboard the ships of rivals Norwegian and, to a lesser extent, Royal Caribbean. However, even the standard inside cabins on Carnival ships come in at around 185 square feet- roomier than on most of their rivals.

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

With more of its ships remaining year round in the Caribbean and Bahamas trade than any of its competitors, Carnival offers far more capacity and diversity than any other line. As well as the ports cited above, the line also offers sailings from Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, Charleston, Mobile and New Orleans. 

On the west coast, Carnival offers short sailings to Mexico from both Los Angeles and Long Beach; it is also slated to resume sailings to the Mexican Riviera in November, after an absence of several years.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these new, attractively priced fares will have other lines looking to their laurels. Within the Carnival family of companies, it might lead to something similar happening and both Holland America and Princess Cruises.

All of this is a very welcome development for the solo traveller, and not before time, either. For details of all the Carnival sailings, you can check out the UK website; http://www.carnival.co.uk

 

VIRGIN ON A FANTASY? RICHARD BRANSON DIPS A TOE INTO CRUISING (Updated)

Carnival Fantasy offers lots of fun in the sun

Carnival Fantasy offers lots of fun in the sun

Press reports are continuing to circulate that Virgin founder and CEO, Richard Branson, is looking to make an entry into the cruise market. If so, it would be the logical extension to a travel network that already encompasses an airline, a rail franchise and, in the not too distant future, a hotel chain, too.

Branson would, ideally, like to start with a fleet of purpose built, state of the art ships, based in both Miami and the Mediterranean. But, while the Virgin brand has tremendous clout and visibility, simple logistics- plus the length of time it would take to negotiate and complete a whole new design of ship- makes it much more likely that a fledgling Virgin Cruises will buy a second hand ship and refurbish her, at least to begin with.

It is much more likely than not that the line will be wanting a large, resort style mega ship, ideal for families; one with a large accommodation and entertainment handle. And, as a start up ship, one vessel in particular comes to mind.

That ship being the current Carnival Fantasy, the first of the eight ship class that was the backbone of the Carnival fleet for two decades. Carnival Fantasy was, in fact, the first mega ship ever built for Carnival Corp.

At sea on the Carnival Fantasy

At sea on the Carnival Fantasy

The ship, built in 1990 and since constantly updated, is around 70,000 tons, and some 855 feet long. At present, her listed passenger capacity is some 2,056. Currently, the Carnival Fantasy operates short cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean year round, from the port of Charleston, South Carolina.

So- why am I hanging my hat on Carnival Fantasy?

Carnival is on record as stating that any future new buildings for the company will be solely commissioned to replace existing tonnage. And, as 2016 will see the debut of the huge new Carnival Vista- the biggest ever new build for the line- it seems obvious that another ship will go, to make way for her.

It has been standard Carnival policy now to phase out the oldest ships in their fleet, and this alone would make Carnival Fantasy the next in line to depart the line. However, until now, most Carnival expatriates- such as the previous generation of Holiday, Jubilee and Celebration-  have all been farmed out to satellite companies of the Carnival brand.

However, this has never been set in stone and, for both Branson and Micky Arison alike, this could be a mutually beneficial deal.

Carnival's distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

Carnival’s distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

Armchair critics will opine that the ship is twenty years old. Maybe so, but a major refit in 2009 tacked on more than a hundred private balconies to cabins already of a comfortable size. As a result, Carnival Fantasy now offers some one hundred and fifty two balcony cabins and suites in all.

One of the big selling points of this class in their original guise was that even their smallest inside cabins measured some 185 square feet- half as large again as the average cabins on rival ships.

In addition, Carnival Fantasy boasts extensive recreation and leisure facilities for children and teens, and a vast array of nightlife options. She really would be the perfect start up ship for a family orientated, fun in the sun kind of cruise line such as Virgin.

And, of course, more to the point is that she will soon, almost certainly, be available for Branson to snap up.

As ever, stay tuned.

UPDATE 4/12/2014

Today, Virgin formally announced that it would, indeed, be entering the cruise industry, with a pair of new builds from an as yet undisclosed shipyard.

While no formal specifications have been announced, the two ships are expected to cruise from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale, where the cruise line will be based. As yet, the company will not state when it expects to start operations ‘for competitive reasons’.

What we do know is that the new, two ship project is being largely financed by Bain Capital. Heading up the line will be the veteran Tom McAlpin, formerly CEO of The World at Residensea, the world’s first true floating condominium.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

CARNIVAL BREEZE HIGHLIGHTS

The Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

The Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

Eight nights cruising the Caribbean on the stunning new Carnival Breeze gave me ample time for an ‘up close and personal’ look at the evolution of a product that itself revolutionised the cruise industry. But, with a new look, a completely new palette, and a series of fun and culinary enhancements that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, the Carnival Breeze is anything but just another big ship, and here’s why:

It is not so much the size of the ship-though, at 130,000 tons she’s no baby- so much as the intelligent use of space, that marks this ship as a thing apart. The promenade that encircles Five Deck is especially impressive. With umbrella shaded, outdoor dining and lounging areas, the look is far more Crystal than Carnival old school. And a quartet of expansive hot tubs, cantilevered out over the sides, provide a series of stunning vantage points to take in the sunsets.

This area raises the game for the entire industry, and was a theme so wildly successful that Norwegian subsequently ran with the idea, and expanded the concept over three full decks on their stunning new twins, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. At any time of the day or night, this area is just a delight to kick back in. Note that as, on the rest of the ship, smoking is allowed on the port side, but not the starboard.

Carnival Breeze atrium

Carnival Breeze atrium

The Red Frog Pub forms a kid of indoor crossover point to this area, together with the raffish, opulent Ocean Plaza. The Red Frog features live nightly, mainly acoustic entertainment that plays to a packed house most nights, while Ocean Plaza rocks, rolls and sizzles to the sounds of sultry samba and platinum chip Motown. This entire area has become the social hub of the ship on so many levels.

Indoors, the ship is simply stunning. The old, Warhol-esque style of famed Carnival chief designer Joe Farcus, has been eschewed in favour of a ship that manages to be more refined, without ever falling over into being simply bland or coma inducing. The neon, brass and marble have given way to subtle, soothing earth tones, reflected in the beautiful furniture groupings in the lower lobby, and mirrored in a succession of dusky beige, brushed walls that frame the ship quite beautifully.

Deck space is dominated by an upper deck, forward facing Serenity Area, an adults only, 21 years plus enclave that spreads to both port and starboard. It comes with its own bar, twin hot tubs, and swathes of padded loungers, double beds and circular pods. With an ambient musical sound track, it gets busy quite early, but it is best in late afternoon, when the crowds thin out, and the ship is sailing head on into some blazing Caribbean sunset. A marvellous chill out spot from the noise and hugger mugger of the lower decks.

Four deck walkway

Four deck walkway

Behind and below this is a vast kiddie’s water  park, a multi layered, many shaded mega mix of numerous water slides, drenching buckets and other such fun. While it is hugely popular, it seems to do little from stopping swarms of kids from populating the aft pool and hot tubs. Maybe this should also be reconfigured as another adults-only area.

The vast real estate of the central pool area features the colourful, beach themed Thirsty Frog and Blue Iguana bars on opposite sides, as well as a Taco Bar, and Guy’s Burger Joint. This latter serves up the most amazing, free form burgers that I have ever sampled in my life. Walking past it without grabbing something to eat became a supreme test of my resolve; one that I frequently failed on a pathetic, regular basis. Addictive hardly covers it.

There are two levels immediately surrounding this area; the upper, open one is packed with sun loungers, while the lower, enclosed one has plush couch chairs in ochre, complete with foot rests. The entire area is suffused most of the day with the sounds of a DJ, as well as numerous deck games, and open air bingo. This is about as close to the ‘old’ Carnival as this vast new ship comes.

Indoors, the two main dining rooms extend through two levels. Sapphire is midships, while Blush looks out over the stern. Both have identical menus at night, and passengers can choose between early or late seating, or even a more flexible, ‘anytime’ approach.

Aft pool area

Aft pool area

Here too, echoes of the ‘old’ Carnival live on, with fondly remembered favourites such as the famous Chocolate Melting Cake, as well as Flat Iron Steak being available every night. Food and service were consistently good, though the food service is faster than British tastes might like. There is still the tradition of singing and dancing waiters; as always on a Carnival ship, the dining rooms are an extension of the entertainment programme. It’s boisterous, good natured fun, and most of the passengers seem to love it.

For those looking for alternative eateries, the vast Lido Marketplace features everything from traditional roast carvings, a deli counter, right though to a decent Mongolian Wok. There is a tandoori area, and 24 hour pizza and ice cream. This area is as vast as the amount of choices it encompasses for all main meals, including dinner. Despite the size, it is surprisingly easy to navigate, but it gets very crowded just before arrival on most port days.

For evenings, there is also an extra tariff Italian restaurant, and a high end steak house. The former carries a cover charge of $12 per person, the latter comes in at $35.

Cabins are still spacious but, again, the palette has been toned right down. Vibrant burnt pink hues have given way to ochre sofas, and the beds now come with beautiful throw wraps. As for the beds themselves, they remain comfortable enough to present a real hazard to activity of any kind. The showers are still among the best at sea.

Blush restaurant

Blush restaurant

Three wardrobes come with flip up shelves in one- a very clever idea indeed. There’s a plasma screen TV and, if you get the balcony grade, these come furnished with two mesh slung chairs, and a small drinks table. It’s an ideal place to enjoy a last nightcap, with just the sound of the ocean swishing alongside for company.

This is by no means a full, in depth review of the Carnival Breeze, but rather a ‘taster’ of some of the highlights that she showcases. If you want the vast casino and late night disco action of old, all that is still there. But in truth, this ship is the future direction of Carnival.

You can see it in the more restrained, formal interior staircases, and the random groups of casual, comfortable furniture that are scattered around the entire ship that are reminiscent of many an outdoor South Beach resort. Above all else, the Carnival Breeze is supremely comfortable, open and airy; a unique mixture of ‘hang loose’ beach party vibe and sleek, clubby comfort that verges on the louche in places.

Spending her entire year in the sunny Caribbean, the Carnival Breeze operates six to eight night, Western and Eastern Caribbean itineraries, out of Miami. The ship is a particularly great choice for families (there are a good number of five berth cabins), as well as couples and groups of friends.

Ocean Plaza aboard the Carnival Breeze

Ocean Plaza aboard the Carnival Breeze

Outdoor bar on promenade deck

Outdoor bar on promenade deck

Outside the Red Frog Pub

Outside the Red Frog Pub

 

The Carnival Breeze is not a quiet ship but, truth be told, there are more than enough very nice places to get away from all the noise, as and when you want to. There is enough of the old, confident Carnival swagger around to make a cruise aboard her feel like soul food, but also so many new, classy touches to make you realise that the line is evolving, diversifying and expanding its offerings, right across the board.

If this is anything at all, it is the evolution and elevation of fun at sea. Recommended? Oh, my word, yes.

HEY BIG SPLENDOR- CARNIVAL BIDS ADIOS TO NEW YORK

It's goodbye to New York for Carnival Splendor

It’s goodbye to New York for Carnival Splendor

Carnival Cruise Lines has announced that their dedicated, year round New York based ship, Carnival Splendor, will be leaving the city to be redeployed from Miami, effective November 9th 2014.

The 113,000 ton, 3,006 passenger Splendor has spent a few seasons in year round sailings from New York, mainly to the Bahamas. There is usually at least one Bermuda cruise per season, pencilled in for June next year.

As of yet, no replacement vessel has been announced, but it is unlikely that Carnival will leave the lucrative, year round north east trade solely to rivals Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Carnival Splendor was built by Fincantieri in Italy, and made her debut in 2008 as a one off, stand alone ship, the only one of her kind in the Carnival fleet. She spent her first months cruising in Europe, before making a headline grabbing cruise around South America, prior to an eventual arrival in her home port of Los Angeles.

From there, the ship made an inaugural, five day run down to Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas (I was aboard) before settling in to the week long circuit down to Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

It was in this role that she suffered a highly publicized engine room fire that left her disabled and adrift for several days. The ship had to be towed back to San Diego for costly repairs that lasted several weeks.

After a couple of more seasons on the LA run, Carnival Splendor repositioned to New York via South America- the ship is too big to transit the Panama Canal- and she has remained a popular staple on the year round Bahamas run ever since. Unlike the slightly smaller Conquest class, Carnival Splendor has a sliding glass roof over her central, twin level pool area, making her the ideal ship for winter sailings to the Bahamas.

And hello to sultry Miami

And hello to sultry Miami

Her redeployment to Florida ups the number of Carnival ships sailing from Miami/Port Everglades to seven. Offering everything from three to eight day itineraries, the Carnival septet is expected to carry something like 1.2 million passengers between them per annum.

The Carnival Splendor will reposition to Miami via two eight day cruises, the first from New York to San Juan, and then a second leg from San Juan to Miami. Once in the Florida port, she will begin alternating, seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, sailing every Sunday.

Eastern Caribbean cruises will take in Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk. The Western Caribbean runs will showcase Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Roatan and Belize.

Details of a replacement ship out of New York will be listed here when available. Stay tuned.

ENJOYING A CARIBBEAN BEACH DAY…..

Eagle Beach, Aruba

Eagle Beach, Aruba

As it’s currently the end of November, and the weather here in Britain is as grim and clammy as a hangman’s handshake, my thoughts have almost inevitably been drifting towards much warmer climes. From the depths of a icy European winter, almost anywhere looks good right now.

Though naturally, some places look so very much better than others.

And, right now, the beaches of the sunny Caribbean are looking especially peachy to me. I know many of the islands in that part of the world quite well and, when I go there these days, I tend to do very little in the way of actual sightseeing. Like thousands of others seduced by the indolent, sun and fun lifestyle of the islands, I just sag with almost pathetic gratitude into a routine of whiling away my hours on what are still some of the best beaches anywhere on the planet.

And the beauty of a winter Caribbean cruise is that it will usually serve up a conga line of stunning new landfalls each day, allowing you to personally drift from one dreamy destination to another. And, though each and every one of those islands is as distinct and individual as a human fingerprint, there’s enough of a glorious, technicolor uniformity across the board to affect you on quite a deep, almost indescribable level.

Find a better office view. If you can.

Find a better office view. If you can.

Whatever your pleasure- whether you’re a snorkeller, a sky jockey or, like me, simply a terminally indolent sun worshipper- you will find more than enough to occupy your day on any Caribbean beach.

I’ve heard scuba diving in the Caribbean described as being akin to frolicking in some fantastic underwater theme park, and I can well believe it, too. Just consider the amazing, engaging riot of rich, gorgeous coral and the vibrant, dazzling, dreamy shoals of fish flitting skittishly in all directions; it must be such a huge adrenaline surge. What a way to start a morning in mid winter!

And, of course, what’s to stop you doing a spot of paragliding, if you’ve got the notion? Kissed by a warm breeze as you are lifted gently above what looks like a sinuous white strip of snow white sand, sprinkled with palm trees, I think the sense of exhilaration and detachment would be almost olympian, and certainly not something easily forgotten, either.

All well and good, too. From my hammock, I love watching those para gliders drifting across the skies like so many languid, brightly coloured butterflies. Even the roar of jet skis that tear up the sparkling azure hue of the sea is like music to my ears. And the sails of those sassy little small boats that skip across the briny are as pretty as postcards.

Life's a beach, and there you fry

Life’s a beach, and there you fry

Ah, but the only ice I want to see is in the frosty finery of a perfectly crafted margarita as my hammock swings idly between a pair of sprawling, spindly date palms, a movement so lethargic as to be borderline comatose. I love the pungent, feisty aroma of freshly cooked jerk chicken, and the  subtle, all pervasive lilt of reggae- surely the ultimate soul food.

And the sight of enormous, plump, pillow white clouds, drifting across a petrol blue canvas backdrop like an endless armada of ghostly galleons, is another feast for the senses. The whole experience is like being awake in some sublime, wonderfully vivid dream.

On other days, I might drag myself out my routine and stroll the beach, with an ice cold beer in my hand, and warm, welcoming swathes of honey hued sand between my toes. And, if you’ve never sat on the edge of a Caribbean beach and let the warm, rolling surf kiss your feet, then you seriously need to try it.

A day spent like this is special, magical and totally life affirming. Intense, in a way that is impossible to calculate, and priceless beyond words. It stays with you too, long after you actually leave it behind.

And then imagine doing it for a week or so, perhaps even more, as you saunter around four or five or more of these sun splashed little strips of nirvana. Days seem to merge into each other in what eventually becomes one long, smiley blur. You find yourself grinning like an idiot, without even realising that you’re doing it. With winter shrugged off like some damp, unwelcome overcoat, you actually do feel lighter, both in the heart and the wardrobe department. And Mother Sun will never, ever, feel so welcome. Just don’t forget your sun block.

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

And the talismanic power of those same islands should never be underestimated. Just writing this article has made me feel a little warmer, made the winter seem just that little bit shorter, and less cold. Food for thought, indeed.

Best of all is the knowledge that, come January, all of this will be back on my personal menu. Thanks to Carnival Cruises, I’ll be smartly sidestepping the stygian British January gloom for a quartet of benign, peachy beach days, some indolent, Riviera style sun, dazzle and sizzle aboard one of the most commodious and well equipped cruise ships in the world, and some fine, fun fuelled nights under the Caribbean’s canopy of dazzling, dreamy stars.

Oh lord, bring it on….

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? SHIPS YOU LOVED, AND THOUGHT YOU HAD LOST……

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

There are quite literally millions of people who love to travel on the big, fun filled floating theme parks of today. More, in fact, than at any other time in history. And that figure is still rocketing skywards; fuelled by cheap fares, excellent value, and the arrival of a continuous conga line of new builds, each one seemingly laden with more time killing (and money costing) on board diversions than ever before.

But if your cruise history goes back a decade or two (or, whisper it, even three), then the ships you first cruised on will have been very different in style, concept, and probably size. The new blood of today is descended from a long line of much smaller ships, many of them fondly remembered for their big personalities and fun, on board vibe. As new ships came on line, these smaller, less gimmick suffused little gems seemed to vanish like Atlantic fog.

Ah, but did they?

You would be pleasantly surprised- and in some cases, no doubt, delighted- to learn how many of ‘those you have loved ‘ vessels are still sailing for other operators. In some cases, they are into their third or fourth lives. And, amazingly, they are still giving pleasure to an entire new generation of new passengers. PSo, put on your deck shoes, put down your pina colada (for now), and let’s take a little walk down memory lane….

Remember Carnival’s first string run of mega ships from the mid eighties; Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration? Well, all three are still very much out there. The former Jubilee is now sailing in the Chinese domestic market, under the name of Henna. The Holiday and Celebration have been reunited at Iberocruises, the Spanish speaking offshoot of Carnival. Little changed, they sail these days as the Grand Holiday and Grand Celebration respectively.

Royal Caribbean had some of the most famous ships of all in the late eighties and early nineties; if you remember the sprightly little Nordic Empress, you’ll find that she’s still sailing for Spanish all inclusive operator. Pullmantur, under the name of Empress. Also with Pullmantur are the former Sovereign of the Seas, now called Sovereign, and the Monarch of the Seas, now styled simply as Monarch.

The company also used to run the squat, stubby little Viking Serenade out of Los Angeles on short trips out to Ensenada, Mexico. She, too, lives on, as the all inclusive Island Escape, and she’s now with Thomson Cruises.

Celebrity Cruises was the true wonder kid on the block in the early nineties, with a pair of stylish, 45,000 ton sisters- Horizon and Zenith- that became bywords for culinary excellence and sheer, outstanding style. For over a decade, these lovely twin sisters were the brightest stars on the summertime New York to Bermuda run.

After being apart for several years, the two sisters, still bearing their original names- have now been reunited under the Croisieres De France banner, a French operation that has them operating summer Mediterranean cruises, and winter voyages in the Caribbean.

Still missing some ships? There will be an update to this piece. Maybe even two.

Stay tuned…