DIANA ROSS TO HEADLINE CARIBBEAN CRUISE IN APRIL

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Carnival Breeze at Grand Turk

The legendary Diana Ross will lead an astonishing line up of musical talent on an eight day Carnival cruise to the Caribbean from Miami next April.

Also on the bill will be Patti Labelle, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, and a host of other stars on what amounts to a soul music festival at sea.

Other headline acts include Charlie Wilson, New Edition, and the Bar-Kays.

The cruise is being run as part of the Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage, which raises funds to support students attending what are described as ‘historically Black colleges and universities.’

The eight night cruise sails from Miami on April 23rd, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Grand Turk, before returning to Miami on May 1st.

The 135,000 ton Carnival Breeze will also be hosting a series of empowerment seminars during the cruise, as well as daytime parties and various theme nights.

While all of this amounts to a massive party on the ocean-one with a  charitable slant as well- there is no doubting that the centre spotlight will belong to Diana Ross.

As a recording artist, she found fame with the Supremes in the mid 1960’s before going solo. Since then, she has also recorded duets with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias, among many others.

In all, she has scored some nineteen number one hit singles to date; twelve as lead singer of the Supremes, and seven solo smashes.

Fares for the cruise are currently listed from $2,860 for an inside cabin, to around $4,000 for an outside.

 

CARNIVAL TO OFFER TEN BERMUDA CRUISES IN 2016

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The stylish Carnival Splendor is Bermuda bound in 2016

Over the past couple of decades, the summer Bermuda cruise season has become more or less dominated by a ‘big three’ composed of Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International.

So complete is this dominance that many potential Bermuda bound passengers overlook other possible options for travelling to the island from a number of different American ports.

For 2016, Carnival is offering no less than ten ex-USA sailings to Bermuda on five different ships, each of which offers at least one overnight stay, and some offer two. Like most ships these days (exception; the four 2016 sailings by Holland America Line), all ten of these calls will use the main mega ship berth at King’s Wharf, on the western side of the island.

So, for those of you that might want to add a little ‘Fun Ship’ style and frivolity to the peace and beauty of Bermuda, here are the options available to you throughout 2016.

Carnival Pride is offering  a brace of five day cruises from Baltimore, Maryland. Sail dates are April 10th and October 26th.

She will also offer a pair of seven night cruises from the same port, departing on September 4th and 18th.

Carnival Sunshine will sail a five night itinerary from Norfolk, Virginia, on October 23rd. Prior to this, the same ship will sail on a seven night itinerary from New York on October 1st.

From Charleston, SC, Carnival Ecstasy showcases a pair of seven night sailings to Bermuda, departing on May 12th and November 6th, respectively.

Carnival Victory offers a southern twist on the classic Bermuda cruise experience, with a one off, eight night sailing that departs from Port Canaveral on May 19th.

Last, but not least, the Carnival Splendor features a nine day Bermuda cruise, sailing from Miami on May 26th. This cruise features a single overnight stay in Bermuda, and additional Caribbean calls at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, and also Grand Turk, in the Bahamas. This one is a particularly lovely combination.

For the UK market, many of these cruises can be packaged with stays in landmark cities such as Miami and New York. And, for something more than a little different, you could combine a Bermuda cruise with a stay in the genteel, old world pace and grace of beautiful Charleston.

All of these cruises present good options to enjoy this beautiful, still very much off the beaten track destination, at the best time of the year.

Enjoy!

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

MAGELLAN TO NORWAY- AN OVERVIEW

If anyone had told me that I would one day cruise over to Norway on a former Carnival fun ship, I would have recommended that they seek serious mental help.

I mean no disrespect to the Carnival brand and product by saying that. But it was the sight of one of those boxy ships, still replete with the famous ‘whale tail’ funnel standing tall and proud, that really threw me a bit of a curve ball.

And yet, there we were, ghosting on a still, late summer dawn into the jagged fastness of Flam aboard the Magellan, the new flagship of Cruise and Maritime Voyages. And it was certainly a moment to savour.

Built originally as the Holiday for Carnival in 1985, she was the first of a trio that were, in effect, that company’s first real mega ships. In their original fun ship guises, these vessels were hugely successful in the Caribbean.

As times and tastes changed, Carnival brought newer, more expansive tonnage on line. Holiday was first hived off to Iberocruises, the Spanish subsidiary of Carnival, to sail Mediterranean cruises as the slightly restyled Grand Holiday.

Then. late last year, she became the latest, surprise acquisition for Cruise and Maritime Voyages, the adults’ only UK based cruise company. An extensive transformation from European styled party boat to something more matronly and elegant was clearly in the offing. And how.

Magellan now strikes me as a mature mix of the best of her original Carnival features- large cabins, broad open sun decks, and the famous, long interior boulevard-and some thoughtful new touches in the shape of her vastly remodelled interior décor, and the well thought out revamping of public spaces.

The result is a ship that nails it near perfectly for the UK market. At 46,052 tons and with a capacity for 1,250 passengers, Magellan retains the warmth and intimacy of the CMV brand, while paradoxically giving passengers half as much space again as aboard the venerable Marco Polo.

Of course, the real trick was whether or not the line could successfully revamp her interiors to suit the more subdued tastes of her new target audience. The answer is a pretty definite yes.

The original Carnival glitz and neon has disappeared like a line of dancing showgirls behind a final curtain. Instead, cool, rich creams and finely styled, Scandinavian pine tables form the hub of a long, linear procession along the boulevard. Understated, sunlit and quite casually spectacular, it is a truly wonderful people watching area in its own right.

Much kudos, too, for the smartly re-imagined area around the former children’s wading pool. This has now been turned into a water feature, surrounded by a lawn area sprinkled with comfy sofas and chairs. With a semi circular stretch of deck overhead and blankets available everywhere, this aft facing little eyrie is actually the most spectacular lounging area on the ship. In fact, it would not look at all out of place on the likes of Regent or even Crystal.

The two main dining rooms- Kensington and the Waldorf- span the full width of the ship, and offer dinners in a traditional, two sitting rota. Oddly, the opening times for the two rooms are staggered some fifteen minutes apart on most evenings.

Upstairs is an expansive lido, facing aft, which also serves casual fare all day, while offering many of the main restaurant dishes at night in a breezier setting. This also features a bar and pizza corner that seemed to operate almost 24/7.

During the day, an additional, centrally located grill area serves up burgers, chicken and wraps.

Our six day cruise took us over from London’s cruise terminal at Tilbury to three show stopping Norwegian classics; Eidfjord was an amazing natural confection of jagged mountains carpeted in deep ranks of pine forests, plunging waterfalls and still silent fjord waters where the silhouette of our ship was reflected to almost crystal perfect clarity.

In lofty, rolling Flam, we rode the famous train up through a landscape of some twenty kilometres of thundering streams, vast, snow capped mountainous gorges, over and past sunlit valleys sprinkled with scores of silent, grass roofed houses, to the summit at Myrdal. Stopping en route at the vast, thunderous waterfall at Kjellfossen was a highlight never to be forgotten.

Our last port of call was cool, patrician Bergen, with its immaculate Bryggen area; a warren of old wooden Hanseatic houses, miraculously preserved and restored as a shopping centre that abuts a vibrant quayside. It dominates a waterfront cradled amid seven low, rolling hills, and the scenic panorama form atop Mount Floyen- accessed by a spectacularly crafted funicular train journey- is simply exhilarating. The whole of the great city sprawls out below you like some incredible, multi hued patchwork quilt.

Magellan spent six days threading her way deftly through this vibrant, soul stirring hinterland with almost effortless ease and poise. I have to say that the ship has space and grace by the bucket load; the conversion has been superbly carried through in the public areas and outdoor venues to create a uniquely welcoming ‘new’ ship.

A word about cabins; the insides and outsides are all of roughly similar dimensions, quite generous in size all round, and with beds that convert from twins to a double. Even better news is that CMV charge only a 25% single supplement for many of these.

In short, Magellan is soothing, comfortable and sybaritic, and she offers some seriously good food and service. At the prices she charges, this ship is an excellent choice, and a great addition to the UK cruise circuit. Very much recommended.

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

THREE OF THE BEST; UPCOMING NEWBUILDS FOR 2016

As 2015 goes full steam ahead into it’s second half, I thought now might be a good time to look forward to some of the new builds coming on line in 2016.

All three represent a pioneering new class of vessel for their respective owners. And, while two of these could well simply prove to be the lead ships of a new platform over time, one of them is almost certainly a total one off, a ship as individual as each of her three current fleet mates.

Firstly, Holland America Line has the superb new Koningsdam.  Coming on line in February, she is the first of a so-called new ‘Pinnacle class’ of vessels. Due to be delivered in March 2016, the 99,500 ton, 2,650 passenger Koningsdam will be the largest vessel ever delivered to Holland America.

Also being built in same Fincantieri yard as the Koningsdam is a larger, first of class vessel for parent company, Carnival Corporation. The brand new Carnival Vista is scheduled for an April delivery. Her maiden, thirteen night Mediterranean sailing on May 1st will mark not only the formal start of her career, but the first series of Carnival cruises anywhere in Europe for several years.

Carnival Vista is essentially an expanded and updated version of the very popular Dream class trio; she will have a gross tonnage of 133,500, and a passenger capacity of 3,936. After an inaugural season of Mediterranean cruises, the Carnival Vista will cross from Barcelona to New York in late October, prior to starting a season of winter cruises from the American east coast.

Definitely set to make a big splash- in every sense of the word- is the new, ultra deluxe Seven Seas Explorer, also fitting out at the ubiquitous, seemingly all conquering Fincantieri yard in Italy.

The first new build for Regent Seven Seas Cruises since 2003, this ultra luxury ship is setting its sights firmly on being, quite simply, the most luxurious ship in the world. Coming in at around 54,000 tons, the 700 guest ship will feature all balcony suites, making her one of the few ships in the world that can make such a claim.

These three ships offer a trio of very diverse products that largely cross the spectrum of the modern cruise industry. Each will be a trailblazer in it’s own way. And it is for certain that the progress and performance of each vessel will be very closely monitored by the competition.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

Regent's new masterpiece, Seven Seas Explorer, is set to be unveiled in 2016

Regent’s new masterpiece, Seven Seas Explorer, is set to be unveiled in 2016

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

CARNIVAL INCREASE SHORT CRUISE CAPACITY IN MIAMI FOR 2016

With the arrival of Carnival Vista looming large for 2016, Carnival is shuffling the fleet pack for a number of its short, three and four night cruise itineraries over the course of 2016.

Carnival Sensation, long a Port Canaveral stalwart, will shift to Miami in February 2016. Her place on the three and four night Bahamas circuit out of that port will be taken by Carnival Victory, the second ship of the original, 100,000 ton Destiny class.

Once home ported in Miami, the Carnival Sensation will embark on a series of four and five night cruises from the Florida port. The four day cruises will all be Thursday departures, and will offer up ports such as the popular ‘private’ resort of Half Moon Cay, plus Nassau and the perennial favourites, Key West and Cozumel.

Five day cruises will depart each Monday, and will showcase such ports as the new development at Amber Cove, together with Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Turk, Cozumel, Nassau and Freeport.

Built in 1993 by Kvaerner Masa in Finland as the third of the original Fantasy class of mega ships, the Carnival Sensation carries around 2,000 passengers. Coming in at around 70,000 tons, she is a good size for these four and five day jaunts around the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The ship recently benefited from all the ‘Evolutions of Fun’ upgrades, and now also has some ninety-eight balcony cabins grafted onto the superstructure.

While the Carnival Sensation is not the newest or most amenity laden vessel in the Carnival portfolio, the vessel has all the bells and whistles needed for a short, invigorating jaunt. There is a spectacular, nine story atrium lobby complete with glass elevators and its own lobby bar, as well as an entire interior ‘boulevard’ of bars, shops and cafes. And, this being Carnival, the casino is huge, and constantly buzzing.

The ship also boasts the aft facing ‘Serenity’ adults-only area, featuring padded loungers, ambient music and a pair of whirlpools. A recently added water park, complete with slides and lots of splashy fun, will be more than enough to help keep the little ones occupied.

These short, destination intensive cruises are a worthwhile adventure in their on right. If you happen to be in Florida as part of a land package, grafting on one of these short itineraries to your stay is a cost effective, pretty inclusive way at gaining access to some safe, pretty little islands while also enjoying a slice of the sizzling nightlife and dining options that the Carnival brand is synonymous with.

Hit the highlights of the Bahamas and Caribbean aboard a sizzling Carnival 'Fun Ship'

Hit the highlights of the Bahamas and Caribbean aboard a sizzling Carnival ‘Fun Ship’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ly looking as regal as ever.

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

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

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

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

 

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.

CARNIVAL RETURNING TO EUROPE IN 2016

The sun is rising on a brand new Carnival Vista

The sun is rising on a brand new Carnival Vista

Just announced will be the return to Mediterranean cruising by Carnival in 2016.

This marks the first return to Europe for Carnival since 2013.

Currently under construction at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard, the brand new Carnival Vista will offer a series of cruises next year to a host of European destinations in both the Western Mediterranean and the Aegean. Ports so far advertised as offered include Athens, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Messina, Marseilles and Rome.

The 141,000 ton Carnival Vista is the largest ship ever built for the line, and the 25th ship to join the Carnival fleet. Early renderings reveal a ship that seems to be a slightly larger version of the previous, 135,000 ton Dream class vessels.

Full details of the new ship are currently being unveiled at simultaneous launch events in both New York and London right now to various assembled media.

A fuller blog will appear in due course.

As ever, stay tuned.