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

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’

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.

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.

HAL’S NEW BUILD- INTRODUCING KONINGSDAM

Holland America's current Westerdam

Holland America’s current Westerdam

Holland America Line has just announced that it’s new, 99,500 ton ‘Pinnacle’ class new build will bear the name of Koningsdam.

The name has kingly connotations, and is being touted as honouring the nation’s current king, Willem Alexander.

Due to emerge from the Italian Fincantieri shipyard in February of 2016, the 2,650 passenger Koningsdam will be the largest passenger vessel ever built for Holland America Line since its transatlantic debut back in 1873.

As yet, this beautiful ship- the first in class and also the first to bear this name- is a stand alone order and design. And, despite being unprecedented in size as an HAL ship, the total tonnage is still considerably less than the most recent addition to parent company, Carnival. Their most recent trio of vessels topped in at 130,000 tons each. The newest build, Carnival Vista, is also due out of Fincantieri in 2016. She will come in at something like 135,000 tons.

The first publicity release depicts a ship with obvious similarities to the previous Eurodam, with the same graceful, raked bow. However, the Koningsdam is depicted with just a single, stand alone funnel, one more in line with the smaller Statendam class vessels than with their larger, Vista class siblings.

With a staff of 1,025, the new Koningsdam brings a fresh, state of the art design to one of the most venerable names in liner and cruise history, while still maintaining the sense of space, grace, and elegant, attentive service that has made HAL an obvious choice for seasoned travellers over many decades.

Combining an exciting new design and a series of old, familiar favourites, the Koningsdam has already taken front running as ‘the’ most eagerly awaited new build of 2016.

As yet, no itineraries have been announced. Stay tuned.

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.

 

RAISING THE GAME; NEW CRUISE SHIPS IN EUROPE FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Allure Of The Seas is Europe bound next year

Princess Cruises has announced that their new Royal Princess- launched just last year- will return to Europe for a full season of cruises over the summer. Her arrival- the latest in a slew of announcements from the major lines- points up just how much all the big players see Europe as seminal in filling- and for displaying- their prime movers and shakers. Just look at what else will be here next year.

Royal Caribbean’s new, second of class ship, Anthem Of The Seas will also be based in Southampton and, to no one’s great surprise, so will P&O’s new Britannia, a vessel being built on the same hull platform as Royal Princess.

The deployments by Princess and Royal Caribbean, in particular, represent a quite extraordinary statement of intent. Two of the world’s newest mega ships, with a capacity of well over 4,000 passengers each, will be based in the Hampshire port. It should be great news for the local business in Southampton for sure and, for the canny cruising purchaser, there should also be some great bargains available as well.

Nor is it simply Northern Europe that will be the recipient of state of the art mega ships. After four consecutive summer seasons in the Med, the game changing, 2010 built Norwegian Epic will be permanently home ported in Barcelona for 2015 onward. The one off mega ship significantly ups the ante for year round cruising from the Catalan port, though her itineraries will not be announced until next month, at the Seatrade Conference in Miami.

Larger still, Royal Caribbean took some people by surprise when it announced a full, summer season of 2015 Barcelona sailings on the jaw dropping Allure Of The Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships ever built. The gargantuan vessel will offer a series of seven night round trips from May through October. She will be by far the biggest ship to offer an extended cruise season in these waters and, with a passenger capacity in excess of 6,000, she will also offer roughly half as many berths again as her nearest rival. Should be interesting.

Pompeii's remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Pompeii’s remains a staple of the Med cruise circuit. See them from Naples.

Plus, next year will also mark the inaugural Med season for the new Costa flagship, the Costa Diadema. Due to debut this autumn, the ship is the biggest ever built by Carnival for the Italian franchise.

And, it has to be added, a few other players will stay their hands as regards dramatic new announcements until Seatrade. Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival, is on record as saying that the line might possibly return to Europe in 2015. Given that the newest Carnival ship- Carnival Vista- will not emerge from her Italian builders yard until 2016, the smart money would be on one of the Dream class trio coming back to the Mediterranean, though probably not the Baltic.

Though the numbers of ships being deployed are not really up on the 2012 figures, it is pretty obvious that nearly all of the major lines still see Europe as the prime arena for showcasing their new ships. Beside the big ticket, first time deployments in Southampton, Princess Cruises are also bringing over the huge Caribbean Princess and, for the first time ever, the line is offering an all inclusive drinks package in the fare.

So the European catwalk (cruisewalk?) season of 2015 looks like being quite a floor show, with each of the entrants bearing all the traits and positive selling points- both real and imagined- of their respective sponsors. One thing there will be no shortage of is choice.

Stay tuned.