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

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF THE CARIBBEAN IN WINTER

On the face of it, winter is the ideal season for scores of sun deprived, pale faced Europeans to flee to the far warmer, more welcoming waters of the Caribbean.

And flee we do. Like hordes of migrating bluebirds, we follow the sun and pour up the gangways of the megaships, sailing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral to those sun splashed little island idylls. Snow, slush and bone chilling cold is no competition for the subtle, seductive lure of broad, bone white beaches, idly waving palms, and the indolent ‘no worries’ lifestlye that has always made the Caribbean so damned compelling in winter. On the face of it, it’s a no brainer.

Of course, the same holds broadly true for our American and Canadian friends, especially those bunkered down in that bitter winter bruiser known as the north east corridor. From Toronto down to Washington, DC, plane load after plane load of weary winter refugees sag gratefully into the open arms of benign Florida sunshine. The world and it’s wife can take care of itself for a week. It’s full speed ahead, destination sunshine.

And, while all of this is fine and dandy, it very much depends what you want from your Caribbean experience. If all you want is just a fun filled week in the sun, then fine. But, if you really want to get ‘under the skin’ of those self same islands, there are some other things you should know about the Caribbean winter cruise circuit.

OVERCROWDING

Any way you slice it, the winter Caribbean cruise circuit is very, very, crowded. Scores of ships that spend summers in Europe and Alaska flee like migrating birds of passage to the warmer, more welcoming Caribbean sun each fall, and stay there till the following spring.

This can mean some fantastic bargains in terms of fares, but trust me, there will be very little that is peaceful and quiet about those islands. Traffic is intense, and almost all of the main shopping streets are a glut of gold, tanzanite and diamond shops. Roads are busier, taxis more in demand. It takes longer to get anywhere and, inevitably, everywhere is much, much, more crowded. Little surprise, then,  that tempers can sometimes run just as hot as the temperatures.

To give one example; back in December 2003, I saw no less than fifteen cruise ships stocked up at Cozumel, Mexico. Every pier was full. Some of the most famous and prestigious cruise ships in the world were obliged to anchor offshore, tendering their passengers in. By the time you factored in the off duty crews coming ashore from all of these ships, the result was a vast human tidal wave, well in excess of thirty thousand strong.

AND MORE ARE COMING…..

That was 2003. The count of new cruise ships coming on line since then is mind boggling. And more are coming.

Virgin Cruises wil debut a trio of enormous new cruise ships in a few years, each one bound for the winter Caribbean. MSC Cruises will also offer year round Caribbean cruises, with their enormous new Seaside-class vessels, too. Newbuilds from Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line will further add to the mix. Rather than getting calmer and more sedate, the Caribbean is going to get busier and louder. And there is no changing that.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD?

Many repeat Caribbean passengers are, quite frankly, getting bored with the same old islands. Warm and inviting as they are, the likes of St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Grand Cayman have become something of a well worn ‘greatest hits’ collection of Caribbean hot spots. So the cry goes up; what’s new? We want new!

And ‘new’ is what passengers will get. Well, kind of. Brand new cruise line developments such as Amber Cove and Harvest Caye, purpose built from scratch, provide the kind of safe, secure Caribbean experience that might well entice the old hands back, as well as wowing the newbies. How much connection these wonderful, almost Disney-esque places have to the actual, day to day experience of Caribbean living is another thing. But then, you’re not going to live there, are you?

Those points made, there are ways in which your winter Caribbean fun run can be kicked up by several notches. Here’s just a few points that you may find worthy of your august consideration.

FLY FURTHER SOUTH TO BOARD A SHIP

That’s right. Give Florida’s fun fuelled embarkation ports a complete swerve, and board a ship in, say, Barbados, or even Puerto Rico. Though you’ll still get the crowds, you are far closer to many of the islands themselves. On a typical, seven night cruise, you’ll hit at least six different island calls. Frantic yes, but you’ve got more chance of a richer, deeper experience. For many, this could be a deal breaker.

GO SMALLER

Forget those fun filled floating theme parks, and go for a voyage on the smallest, most exclusive ship that you can afford. The smaller they are, the more inclusive they seem to be.

The likes of Silversea, Star Clippers, Regent, Seadream, Seabourn and Crystal will all offer you salubrious, sybaritic indulgence on such a scale that the experience of cruising the Caribbean is massively elevated. These smaller ships can raise the bar- and the price- by quite a way, but the experience is truly unforgettable.

They can also often access the smaller, far more intimate islands, such as Jost Van Dyke and St. Barts, that the big ships have to bypass. Thus, your Caribbean experience becomes far more intimate, pared down and personal. In short; you get what you pay for.

Buteven the most exclusive of ships will sometimes deliver you into the same massive crowds at the ‘greatest hits’ ports. Your six star, boutique ship may well look swanky and impressive when docked next to the latest floating death star at sea, but you will still be competing with its passenger load for access to taxis, beach space, and shopping and restroom facilities. Which is precisely why these de luxe ships try and avoid the busiest of these ports in peak season; sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. It’s horses for courses.

All of that said, none of the points up above should prevent you from running like a March hare to any of those islands in the sun during the winter. Maybe, like me, you are quite happy to relax on board quite a bit, and then just saunter off to a favourite, nearby beach for a few hours once the crowds have headed off for their day of pirating ashore. And, crowded or not, few things sooth the soul quite like a hammock on some sunny beach, with a feisty, frost crusted strawberry daiquri to hand, with warm sun, cool breezes, and the sound of reggae kissing your ears. It worked for me back in the Eighties, and it still works now.

Maybe I’m just weak and predictable, mind you.

The bottom line is that the Caribbean has it’s complications and flaws in winter, and some will find them maddening to the point of temporary distraction. But hey- a distracted day in paradise, noise, crowds and all, is still a giant leap for mankind better than a day driving through a blizzard to reach the factory or office.

On balance, get out there. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls, and choose accordingly.

And yes, I’m afraid that hammock is taken. Have a nice day.

A winter wonderland; it's called the Caribbean....

A winter wonderland; it’s called the Caribbean….

 

TYNE AND TIDE; CMV’S MAGELLAN INAUGURATES PORT OF TYNE 2015 SEASON

Maiden calls always guarantee a bit of a media ‘splash’ for a new arrival, and this was definitely the case for the new Cruise and Maritime flagship, Magellan, when she inaugurated the cruising season from Port of Tyne on March 27th.

The 46,052 ton ship- built in 1985 as Carnival’s Holiday- arrived to embark some six hundred passengers for a Norwegian Fjords cruise after an overnight voyage from Tilbury.

While she was here, the company hosted a group of writers to a drinks reception and lunch. Boarding something like an hour earlier gave me time to wander round and run an eye over the ‘new’ flagship.

The first impression you get is of how much more spacious she is compared to, say, her fleet mate, the veteran Marco Polo. Magellan is wider by quite a way, and this allowed the creation of a string of open public spaces, both inside and out.

A long, finely styled interior boulevard with a Scandinavian accent contains many of the main public rooms. Lit by a long expanse of floor to ceiling windows, this space is a delight to stroll in it’s own right. Many of the main public rooms debouch from this walkway, and extend right out to the port side of the ship.

Nicely done is Sinatras, an evocative jazz bar that forms an elegant, expansive focal point for after dinner mood music and cocktails. I should imagine it will prove very popular with regular passengers.

All of the public rooms have been toned down in terms of decor from the Carnival days, though the casino is still bigger than on any of the other ships in the fleet. Overall, this is a ship where strolling from bar to bar after dinner is an indulgent affair, with music to suit every mood and whim.

Outside, the Magellan benefits from having a central pool located in a vast, teak lined well deck, thus shading it from the wind all around. Another pool overlooking the stern has a pair of Jacuzzis just behind it, while another, oval shaped Jacuzzi is located right forward, on the highest deck.

The two main restaurants- Kensington and Waldorf- are both located on one of the lower decks. Each serves the same menu and spans the full width of the ship. They are done in a slighly more vibrant, but not over the top, shade of green that gives them a fresh, warm feeling when sunlight floods in through the big windows on either side.

It is worth noting that the Magellan is an adults-only ship. Twice the tonnage of Marco Polo, and with a maximum capacity of 1,250 passengers, she offers roughly half as much space again per person as the smaller ship. And, because of her later, mid eighties design, many cabins are of a uniform size and layout. In fact, they are the largest standard cabins on any ship of this size in the UK market.

CMV has been smart in selling quite a large number of these- both inside and outside- as dedicated singles, at a smile inducing 25 per cent supplement on the normal fares. They represent some of the best buys available anywhere in the UK cruisng scene today.

In short, Magellan looks like a smart acquisition. Sure, she is bigger than Marco Polo, but the level of intimacy is still there. There are more lifts, a good passenger flow, and more spaces in which to pause and play in. There’s an aft facing spa and wellness centre on this ship that looks particularly alluring as well.

The renovation of the ship has been quite sympathetic, keeping the open, breezy largesse of the former ‘Fun Ship’ while, at the same time, enhancing and expanding her appeal for the British cruising passenger. Offering everything from overnight cruises to grand, thirty plus day round trip sailings to the Caribbean, the Magellan will have some cruises on offer to suit eveybody’s budget and timescale.

Definitely an experience worthy of consideration. I hope to do a short cruise on her later this year, and I’ll have a fuller, more comprehensive report on the ship then.

As ever, stay tuned.

The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

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.

NORWEGIAN OFFERS ALL INCLUSIVE; JOINS CARNIVAL AND ROYAL CARIBBEAN

Silversea; the very definition of 'all incluisve'

Silversea; the very definition of ‘all incluisve’

With the news today that Norwegian Cruise Line is to introduce an all inclusive drinks and dining package next year right across their full range of thirteen ships, the line becomes the latest in an increasing list of mainstream cruise operators that have gone down that route in the last few years. This headlong charge toward being fully inclusive has gained startling momentum over recent years, and yet has been little remarked on.

For two decades, all inclusive was the sole preserve of upscale operators such as Silversea, Seadream and Seabourn. Eventually, their direct competitors- Regent and Crystal- were dragged kicking and screaming down the fully inclusive footpath. Recently, deluxe operator, Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines started offering ‘beverage credits’ on board Europa 2 for UK passengers. Fully inclusive here, too, is almost certainly just a matter of time.

But the ‘big boys’ have taken a lot longer to respond. Actually, ‘all inclusive’ packages have been available as add-ons on some European cruise lines, and mainly on European itineraries, for a lot of years now. Louis Cruises in particular has been offering optional add-on packages for a long time, although with the caveat that the packages are only valid from 1000-0200 each day. Anything served before or after charged extra. Mind you, that would surely be far and away long enough for most, especially on such destination intensive short cruises.

MSC Cruises bit the bullet very early on in it’s giddy ascent towards becoming a player, offering a series of soft and alcoholic drinks packages that also folded in such treats as ice cream, and these proved tremendously popular. So much so that principal rival, Costa Cruises, did something similar. Out in the Far East, Star Cruises has offered an add on, all inclusive policy since its inception in the 90’s.

Carnival now offers a form of all inclusive package

Carnival now offers a form of all inclusive package

But, as so often before, the big game changer came when Carnival first trialed, and then rolled out, the first all inclusive, optional add ons across its vast fleet of Caribbean Fun Ships. This has been such a success that first, Royal Caribbean and now, Norwegian, has followed suit.

There has been some reluctance in certain quarters to go down this route. I suggested it as an option to one mainstream line a couple of years ago, and was told immediately that it would not happen.

Well, now it has.

What of the British based lines, I hear you say? Well, Thomson Cruises operates as an all inclusive package for many cruises but, baffling to report, they continue to charge an extra tariff on some itineraries to upgrade to all inclusive. As a product, it needs to be more uniform than it currently is.

Most surprising to my mind was when Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines put together an inclusive package, charged at a very reasonable £10 a day premium. For this most traditional of lines, this is a savvy bit of forward thinking. Cunard and P&O have not yet shown any interest in pursuing a similar policy, but that will probably change as well.

These inclusive, add on packages often come with certain caveats. Typically, all occupants of a cabin must buy the package and, as a rule of thumb, only one drink will be served at a time.  And most of these packages are not truly ‘all inclusive’; premium brands, champagnes and fine wines will certainly attract a surcharge, though often considerably less than the actual per drink cost.

And now Norwegian has joined in the fun....

And now Norwegian has joined in the fun….

Personally, I consider the bulk of these mainstream enhancements as just that- enhancements, rather than truly all inclusive. The actual ‘all inclusive’ product as we know it remains pretty much the preserve of the handful of boutique lines named at the top of this piece.

CARNIVAL IN THE CARIBBEAN: A NIGHT AT THE RED FROG PUB

Inside the Red Frog

Inside the Red Frog

One of the most enjoyable parts of my recent cruise on the vast Carnival Breeze were the late evenings and early mornings spent in the Red Frog pub on board. As these bars are relatively new to Carnival, I thought I’d go and check it out. Purely in the interests of research, you understand….

It’s not quite your typical English boozer, but more the pub concept, re-imagined for the Caribbean. With it’s own label, popular beer on tap and a cracking roster of engaging Jamaican bar staff, it was one of the best live venues on the ship.

Nights featured a few live, mainly acoustic sets from a trio of very talented guys. That- and the weapons grade Dark and Stormies- drew me back night after night. The place has a simply cracking atmosphere and, just like in any good pub anywhere, a regular clientele soon formed, and became fast friends.

The large, uncluttered room opened out onto the open decks on both sides, one side smoke free. Under the balmy Caribbean nights, we would lounge outside as the guys inside ran through their various, different routines. And, while they were all class acts, it was mainly JJ that we went to listen to.

To give him his full due, JJ Paolino is an engaging, affable son of Newport, Rhode Island, currently busking his way around the much warmer waters of the Caribbean, one gig at a time. With a voice that alternated between pure honey and raw gravel, JJ wielded his acoustic guitar like a light sabre.

JJ gives it some oomph....

JJ gives it some oomph….

With a repertoire ranging from Neil Diamond to Oasis, via the Eagles, the Moody Blues and even the Monkees, JJ ran the gamut of just about every musical taste, and his banter and sense of humour went a long way to winning over what was, initially, a very diverse crowd. Housewives from Colorado and a gang of friends from Mexico City; snowbirds from Detroit and film makers from LA; all of them came to hear and, ultimately, sing along with JJ. Requests? Never a problem. Just shout ’em out.

Under the subtle influences of rum, reggae and rock and roll, our nights on board the Carnival Breeze morphed into one long, smiley blur. Barriers and inhibitions fell backwards from bar stools as JJ and his compatriots rocked the Red Frog on a nightly basis, through until the early morning hours.

With a canopy of stars and a sound track of a softly strumming guitar, our nights were as long and sweet as those exquisite Dark and Stormies, served up with a smile. And, in the immortal words of the great Mister Diamond, as channelled by JJ, good times really never did seem so good.

Best of times, best of company. Encores all round, methinks.

LONG HAUL CRUISING- HEADING FOR HAWAII

Sailing out to Hawaii can be amazingly relaxing

Sailing out to Hawaii can be amazingly relaxing

However you get there, few would argue that Hawaii is one of the most alluring and seductive holiday vacation places on earth.

For our American friends, the islands are a five hour flight from Los Angeles; about the same as a flight from the UK to Egypt. And, as an American state, Hawaii offers all the comforts of home, wrapped up in a spectacular montage of brilliant beaches, surf and swaying palms, and even the odd mild, volcanic eruption.

For Europeans, it is not so easy to achieve, and realistically has to be done as part of a two centre holiday, usually with Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or even San Francisco. The long haul out from Europe to the west coast of the United States alone is twelve hours. And if your journey starts at a regional airport, longer still. That’s before you add on the extra transit time, and the additional five hour haul out to Honolulu.

Any way you serve it up, it’s one hell of a hike. Add on the cost of hotels- especially on Oahu- and you’re looking at a perfect storm of long, tetchy flights and a skyrocketing holiday cost. And that’s before you even begin to think about food, drink, and fun stuff.

Bottom line? It’s a long, hard journey, and not by any means a cheap gig once you get there.

Enjoy the lido lifestyle at sea en route to Hawaii

Enjoy the lido lifestyle at sea en route to Hawaii

Or, you could think of doing Hawaii by cruise ship. From Los Angeles and sometimes San Diego, cruise ships from Carnival, Princess and Holland America make a fourteen day round trip out to Hawaii and back, usually in the spring and autumn.

For both Americans and Europeans, these come with a number of pros and cons. For a start, it is a four day sail out- there and back- to the islands of Hawaii. That’s a lot of sea days. Bliss for some, but not for everyone.

And, just because you are on the sparkling Pacific, don’t imagine that it will always be as calm as a millpond. It won’t. And, being a cruise, most of these voyages do not stop overnight at any of the islands (though one or two make an overnight stop in Honolulu) So what you’ll see of the islands is rather more in the nature of snapshots, than an in depth experience.

On the other hand, you’re travelling in a safe, sealed environment, with all of your main meals and snacks included in the cost. That in itself is a huge financial saving. And, compared to cruises in Europe, a Hawaii cruise comes out pretty good, price wise.

For a more in depth, but still relatively economical option, you can fly into Oahu, and take a week long cruise from the centre of Honolulu itself. Norwegian Cruise Line has the Pride Of America cruising year round in the islands. And, unlike other ships, she offers longer stays, plus one or two overnights in port on each cruise.

Though you are still making the long flights out to Hawaii (and, indeed, back) there is always the option to break your journey on the west coast, either on the way out, the way back or, indeed, both. You could fly out via San Francisco, for instance, and come back via Las Vegas if the fancy takes you.

Carnival usually has a couple of spring and autumn round trip cruises to Hawaii

Carnival usually has a couple of spring and autumn round trip cruises to Hawaii

Personally, I would also have a couple of days in Honolulu itself, either pre or post cruise. It seems to me that a couple of days at least is needed to slide easily into that whole dreamy, aloha kind of vibe.

On this cruise, you actually spend very little real time sailing per se. The Pride Of America is, essentially, a floating hotel that changes the scenery each night. A typical Norwegian product with a very American emphasis, she is crammed with good things and fun stuff to do for your nights on board. Good for single passengers, too, as she boasts a few of the solo occupancy studio cabins, at a fairly decent price point.

There is no getting around the sheer logistical train wreck of travelling out to Hawaii and back, however you decide to do it. But if seeing these fabled islands is on your bucket list- and it should be- then you will bite the bullet, and do it anyway. That being so, one of these cruise options might just be the thing for you. Enjoy.

GEARING UP FOR GETAWAY- NORWEGIAN AND IT’S OPTIONS

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

With next week’s debut of the hugely anticipated Norwegian Getaway bang on schedule, and two new, further enhanced ships in the same class now firm orders with Meyer Werft at Papenburg, Norwegian can begin contemplating possible expansion into other areas. The question is; where, and with what?

It might be first best to look at the current Norwegian fleet as it stands right now. The fleet comprises the near sisters, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky, as well as the Papenburg built sextet of Star, Dawn, Jewel, Jade, Pearl and Gem.

The Norwegian Spirit is unique in the fleet, having transferred over from Star Cruises, instead of vice versa, as was the norm.

The stand alone Norwegian Epic and the Hawaii- based Pride Of America rounded out the roster, until the debut last spring of the spectacularly successful Norwegian Breakaway. With the imminent addition of Getaway next week, that brings the total number of ships under the company colours to thirteen in all.

Currently, Sky is deployed year round on three and four night cruises from Miami. Sister ship, Norwegian Sun, spends summers in Alaska, and winters in the Caribbean.

Norwegian Spirit spends the year in Europe

Norwegian Spirit spends the year in Europe

In Europe, the company has a spring through fall annual deployment of the Epic, which returns to the Caribbean each winter; there is also a year round Mediterranean ship- Norwegian Jade- while the beautiful, oriental themed Spirit spends summer in the Med, and winters cruising to the Canary Islands.

Seasonal Scandinavia sailings are currently handled out of Copenhagen by the Norwegian Star. In the fall season, she relocates to Los Angeles for cruises down to the Mexican Riviera. As previously cited, the one off Pride Of America operates year round sailings around the Hawaiian Islands.

The new Norwegian Breakaway sails year round from New York; to Bermuda in the summer, and the Bahamas through the winter. The remainder of the Norwegian fleet- Jewel and Pearl- spend summers in Alaska, and winters in the Caribbean. Norwegian Dawn spends summers sailing to Bermuda from Boston, and winters in the Caribbean as well.

The addition of Norwegian Getaway- scheduled to operate year round, seven day cruises out of Miami- gives the line some limited options to expand into other markets. We’re not talking about the far reaching, large global redeployments of Carnival and Royal Caribbean- yet- but a new ship does allow a little flexibility in the Norwegian fleet as it stands.

So, what form might such deployments take?

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Certainly not a year round ship in the UK in the immediate future. Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan told me himself that he has no plans to base a ship permanently in the British market.

Nor does Asia seem especially likely; sister company, Star Cruises, has that area pretty well covered and, with its own massive new build coming in a year or two, there seems little incentive for Norwegian to go in that direction, either.

Instead, Norwegian might go for an Australian deployment. The company briefly flirted with the Antipodes in the late nineties, with the short lived Norwegian Capricorn Line. It was an idea before it’s time, but that time could have finally come around.

Possibly the Norwegian Pearl, or even the Jewel, could make the switch to Australian sailings. Rumours have centered around the Norwegian Epic going south of the Equator, but she would be too big an act to follow up with in Europe for now, at least. I think one of the smaller ships might get a revamp, and then go to Australia.

Less adventurous, Norwegian could also reintroduce a ship on the five day circuit out of Miami, to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. It did this for a number of seasons (I sailed on a couple of them) but, in the last few years, these cruises have been left entirely to their rivals. It should be a realistic goal over the winter, at the very least.

And with two more ships coming over the next few years- Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss- the company will be replete with more new tonnage to utilize. A return to South America cruising (Norwegian used to specialize in long cruises along and through the Chilean Fjords at one time) could be on the cards, or even a possible entry into the South African cruise season might be on the cards.

In any event, next week’s debut of the Norwegian Getaway certainly moves Norwegian up a gear as a company. I’ll be on board next week for her inaugural celebrations, with a review to follow.

As always, stay tuned.

HOLLAND AMERICA LINE- STILL SUBLIME

Holland America's current Westerdam

Holland America’s current Westerdam

With a history that dates back to its first ever transatlantic sailing in 1873, the Holland America Line can safely lay claim to a place among the aristocracy of ocean travel. Now headquartered in Seattle and a principal player in the Carnival portfolio, the venerable line made the transition from crossing to cruising at the dawn of the 1970’s.

HAL traditionally never built the vast, imposing national flagships that typified their Cunard and French Line rivals, instead preferring to build solid, mid size vessels with excellent sea keeping qualities; a vital prerequisite on the often stormy passage between Rotterdam and New York. All the same, the line soon acquired a reputation for running smart, well served vessels on a human scale, factors which would make the line the first choice of many travellers over the years.

It became an axiom of transatlantic lore that a single speck of dirt on a Holland America ship would be enough to make a chief purser commit suicide. Legendary liners such as the graceful, triple stacked Statendam and, more than any other, the fabulous Nieuw Amsterdam of 1938 would become every bit as iconic as their larger fellow travellers. Hollywood stars such as Spencer Tracey were often prepared to alter their travel plans, just for the opportunity of sailing on the Nieuw Amsterdam, such was her star power on the post war Atlantic crossing.

But the canny Dutch had already foreseen the increasing dominance of the jet airliner when they introduced a new national flagship, the Rotterdam of 1959. Staunch and graceful, and with a pair of parallel twin funnels mounted aft, the new ship was designed for dual purpose, Atlantic crossings and warm weather cruising. Incredibly, this venerable and much adored legend would sail on until the year 2000; a happy ending that nobody could have foreseen in the cloudy skies of 1959.

Inevitably, dwindling numbers forced the cancellation of all Atlantic crossings at the end of 1971, a new emphasis on full time cruising, and a relocation of headquarters to Seattle. Long before it’s acquisition by Carnival in 1997, the line had become one of the major players in Alaska cruises and tours during the summer months.

Today, bolstered incalculably by Carnival’s financial clout and business expertise, the line operates some of the best and most elegant ships in the upper premium market. Though the ships of today are much bigger than the Atlantic and Bermuda stalwarts of the ‘old’ HAL, devotees of the line would instantly recognise the fresh cut flowers, signature art collections and deft, efficient Indonesian staff members that have defined the Holland America brand for over a century now.

The 1959 built Rotterdam, still afloat today as a hotel ship in her namesake port

The 1959 built Rotterdam, still afloat today as a hotel ship in her namesake port

If HAL stands for anything, it is tradition and continuity. And while these factors have been key to holding and retaining a quite extraordinary level of loyalty from regular passengers, they have also been perceived as stumbling blocks in any attempt to attract newer, younger passengers to its storied fleet.

It is a conundrum, and it has to be said that the modern HAL fleet is every bit as capacious, diverse and amenity laden as its rivals. Indeed, HAL offers some of the biggest standard cabins afloat, and a level of cuisine and service well above that offered by the mainstream lines. The lack of alternative dining venues in comparison to other lines merely points up just how excellent and finely styled the on board options already are.

Holland America is changing slowly by degrees to accommodate the new cruising demographic. Like a graceful Dutch galleon tacking slowly round to take advantage of fresher breezes, it will be a case of slow and steady does it.

The Holland America Line is still a timeless, tremendous experience even now. The ships remain as immaculate and highly styled as ever; each one is a sumptuous, floating art gallery in its own rightFor a classy, utterly distinctive big ship travel experience that combines the best of old world glamour with all the comfort and modern conveniences anyone could ever want, you would be very hard pressed to do much better.

BETTER FOR BERMUDA?- CRUISE SCHEDULE FOR 2014

Bermuda is a famous beauty

Bermuda is a famous beauty

Bermuda is looking forward to a bumper 2014 cruise season, according to a report in the Bermuda Sun newspaper.

Well, at least a part of it is.

The north western port of Kings Wharf, hugely and extensively developed for cruising since 2004, will play host to no less than 132 cruise ship calls, disgorging a total of 356,000 passengers onto the island in the peak season between May and October.

Meanwhile, the former landmark ports of Hamilton and St. George’s are practically barren all year round.

New to the island next year is Royal Caribbean International’s Vision Of The Seas. The recently refurbished ship will sail three ten night, round trip cruises from Fort Lauderdale on June 9th, August 18th and September 1st, 2014. Each will spend three days and two nights in Bermuda, as well as making calls at Charleston, Nassau, and the company’s private island at Coco Cay.

From New York, the Explorer Of The Seas is scheduled to make twenty-seven calls and, from Baltimore, the Grandeur Of The Seas is slated for some fourteen Bermuda landfalls.

Sister company, Celebrity Cruises also offers nineteen round trips from New York on the Summit, the line’s Bermuda stalwart of several years past.

Meanwhile, the ground breaking Norwegian Breakaway returns from New York for some twenty-two calls over the course of 2014. The new ship had a hugely successful first season in 2013, during which she brought some ninety thousand passengers to the island, making a net contribution of some $26 million to the Bermuda economy.

Rounding out the roster of Bermuda round trip ‘regulars’ over 2014 is the Boston based Norwegian Dawn, with some twenty-two round trips on sale.

Side streets of St. George's, Bermuda

Side streets of St. George’s, Bermuda

The island is also expecting a one off call from Carnival Splendor in June, and there will be three calls from Princess, with Emerald, Ocean and Ruby Princess making one visit each.

The Bermuda government is also said to be courting Germany’s Aida cruises with a view to future business. Over the last year, the government has made key concessions to cruise lines, including allowing them to open their casinos while docked in Bermuda for the first time ever. The move was widely seen as a response to the exodus of lines like Holland America, the last bastion of the typical ‘Bermuda run’.

The 2014 roster of Bermuda arrivals is expected to contribute something like $90 million in total to the Bermuda economy in all. As well as disposable income coming from passengers in terms of shore excursion sales, meals and drinks and taxi fares, these figures also take into account the spending patterns of off duty cruise members, taking time out ashore at the end of their working days and nights.