CELESTYAL’S CRYSTAL GETS NEW BALCONIES IN TIME FOR CUBA SEASON

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Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Just prior to beginning her new season of round Cuba cruises in December, the 24,000 ton Celestyal Crystal had an extra forty three balconies added to cabins on Six and Seven decks.

The work, carried out in twenty days in a Piraeus shipyard, added some twenty six balconies to junior suites on Deck Six, and a further seventeen to junior suites on Deck Seven. Most of these are located on the forward part of the ship’s superstructure, with a few more located right aft.

The new balconies all extend approximately 1.4 metres from the sides of the ship, and vary in length from 2.8 up to a quite substantial 5.8 metres. They represent a significant enhancement for these rooms which, on average, come in at around 170 square feet of interior space each.

In addition, the eight, V-shaped midships balconies on the Deck Eight Penthouse Suites were extended and refurbished, as were those on the two forward facing Imperial Suites overlooking the bow. Those latter two suites also feature a Jacuzzi, located on the balcony.

The total of fifty three balconies now available adds some very welcome, private deck space to what can sometimes feel like a very busy ship. Celestyal Crystal was originally constructed as a Baltic ferry, before undergoing a substantial conversion for full time cruising.

Technical upgrades were also taken in hand during the refurbishment, as well as a general refreshment of the main public areas throughout the ship.

During the winter, the refurbished ship will operate a full programme of seven night, round trip cruises from her home port of Havana, Cuba. Returning to the Aegean in spring, the vessel will then offer a series of three, four and seven night Greece and Turkey cruises from a new home port of Lavrion, just outside of Athens.

An interesting twist on one of the most distinctive and individual small cruise ships in service today. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

CELESTYAL ANNOUNCES YEAR ROUND WINTER CRUISES IN 2018

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

As part of a series of ongoing investments and improvements to its brand, Celestyal Cruises will commence a first ever, year round programme of winter cruises from Greece, beginning in 2018.

These winter itineraries will take the form of a series of seven night, three continent cruises, to be operated by the Celestyal Olympia. The 38,000 ton ship, familiar to many as the former Song Of America of 1982, will sail from the port of Lavrion, just outside of Athens, Ports of call will include Antalya in Turkey, Jerusalem, Port Said for Cairo, and Rhodes. An itinerary that uniquely allows passengers to set foot in Africa, Asia and Europe on each round trip.

This route marks a welcome diversion for the company’s largest ship, which usually spends four months of the year laid up each winter in Piraeus, before resuming her spring and summer programme of three and four night mini cruises to the Greek islands and Turkey.

Celestyal also plans further enhancements at the line’s new fleet home port of Lavrion, the closest actual embarkation point for passengers flying into Athens. It is one of a number of bidders currently looking to build a new pier and, given the importance of the cruising sector to the overall Greek economy, the company is likely in prime position to achieve its aims.

In other developments, Celestyal Cristal will offer another season of seven night, winter cruises around Cuba this winter. And next spring, the line will introduce the 19,000 ton Celestyal Nefeli on a route that features a lot of Turkish highlights.

Plans are also afoot to embark passengers from both Kavala and Thessaloniki, located on the northern shores of the Aegean, in a couple of years’ time, in order to tap into the potentially very lucrative eastern European market.

Interesting times at the specialist Greek islands operator here. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE ISLAND ESCAPE?

Is the sun about to set on Island Escape?

Is the sun about to set on Island Escape?

With the coming 2016 delivery of the Thomson Discovery to the TUI UK based fleet, there is still no word as to the fate of the current fleet stalwart, Island Escape.

The 1,800 passenger, 1982 built ship has been a staple of the budget Mediterranean cruise circuit for the better part of two decades, and provided a first cruise experience for literally thousands of passengers. But she is due to make her last such sailing in October and, as of yet, no future buyer has stepped forward to take on the formerBahamas car ferry.

The website Marine Consultant (www.marine-consultant.com) has the vessel listed for sale at a price of around $20 million, with delivery offered from October. The Island Escape is listed as fully SOLAS 2010 compliant.

With no disclosed potential buyers, the future for the 33 year old ship does not look great.

She would work for a company like Celestyal Cruises, the specialist, short cruise operator that has made the Greek and Turkish market largely its own. For them, the Island Escape might well make a very appealing option for the short, three and four day cruise itineraries that the line offers from March to November each year.

That said, would Celestyal- who will take on the new Celestyal Nefeli next March- be willing to invest in additional tonnage, given the air of uncertainty and political tension currently prevalent in the region?

Here’s hoping that this popular, fondly remembered ship does, indeed, find suitable future employment. As ever, stay tuned for any news updates.

BYE BYE ODYSSEY, HELLO NEFELI- ALL CHANGE AT CELESTYAL CRUISES

It’s both in and out with the almost new simultaneously over at Celestyal Cruises.

Out as of October this year is the one season chartered Celestyal Odyssey, formerly the Olympic Explorer. The ship is returning to her owners after a one off season offering short, three and four day cruises around the Greek Islands and Turkey for Celestyal.

While I personally regret the loss of this ship, the good news is that her place and itineraries in the Celestyal Fleet will be taken up by the 1992 built Gemini. After a refit in February of next year, the 19,000 ton ship will enter service from either Piraeus or Lavrion on the same short, three and four day cruise circuit as her predecessor, under the new name of Celestyal Nefeli.

Originally built as the Crown Jewel in Spain back in 1992, the ship is the twin sister of Crown Dynasty, now better known as Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ ever popular Braemar. After spells sailing for Star Cruises in Asia, and then the short lived Quail Cruises the ship, by now known as Gemini, was laid up after a stint as a hotel ship for the London Olympics.

The nascent Celestyal Nefili- the name comes from a famous Greek cloud nymph and goddess of hospitality- boasts some four hundred inside and outside cabins, including some forty three executive and junior suites. Some of these even have private balconies.

Most inside and outside cabins come in at around 140 square feet- more than big enough for a long weekend in warm climes. Wardrobe space is not excessive, but the largely smart casual lifestyle on board Celestyal Cruises means that this should not be a problem for most people.

Her relatively small size and intimacy makes her a perfect ship for these short, port intensive cruises (something I mentioned to the still then Louis Cruises a couple of years ago). Additionally, she has a wonderful series of tiered, cascading sun decks at the stern, which make her a perfect indoor/outdoor ship at night in those sultry Aegean waters.

It is also heartening to see this smaller, beautifully styled ship getting another chance to carry a a lot of happy passengers around these beautiful, storied islands. I expect this classically restyled ‘lady of the seas’ to do brisk business come next spring, and I wish her fair winds and smooth sailing.

As ever, stay tuned to this site for any additional updates.

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

CUBA CRUISE GOES ALL INCLUSIVE FOR WINTER 2015-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting times. As ever. stay tuned.

Celestyal  Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

FIVE REASONS WHY A GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE IS A GREAT CHOICE RIGHT NOW

Despite the hail of horror stories raining in and around Athens, there has probably never been a better time to visit the region, especially on a short cruise and stay holiday. And, for those of you that think I’ve taken definite leave of my senses, I’m going to outline the reasons why in this piece.

CHEAPER FLIGHT PRICES

Since the high noon standoff between Tsipras, Merkel, and the rest of the EU, flight prices from Europe to Greece have gone into something of a tail spin- pun wholly intentional. And, with airlines such as KLM serving Athens via Amsterdam from no less than twenty-one different regional airports in the UK, you can add a healthy dollop of convenience into the mix for good measure. And, with flight times from Amsterdam to Athens of around four hours, you get cheap, fast and convenient all packaged up and served in a goody bag.

IT’S TIME FRIENDLY

Taking one of the short, three or four night cruises offered by Celestyal Cruises out of Piraeus, the port for Athens, will serve up snapshots of anything up to six different ports of call. No other Aegean cruise can pack in so much on such a short itinerary.

Three night cruises sail from Piraeus at 1100 every Friday morning. By five that same evening, you’re in Mykonos for a few hours of fun and frivolity ashore.

Next morning will find you in the stunning Turkish seaside town of Kusadasi, leaving around noon, and by mid afternoon you’ll be in Patmos for long enough to enjoy dinner and drinks ashore. Back aboard, and you’re on your way again about 2200 that evening.

The last full day finds you in Heraklion first thing, before an afternoon arrival in Santorini, with time enough to ascend the caldera to Thira, and a chance to check out the most stunning single vista anywhere in the Aegean.

Next morning, you’re back in Piraeus.

HISTORY AND HEDONISM

The Greek mainland and islands offer endless scope for both history lovers and sun worshippers. Just consider the itinerary above, and look at what you can actually see in a mere four days;

In Athens itself, there is time to check out the Acropolis, with it’s stunningly majestic Parthenon. On Mykonos, there’s time to take in the fabled sunset- the best such show east of Key West- from the waterfront at Chora, before an evening in the nightlife capital of the Aegean.

In Kusadasi, you can check out the stunted, sprawling ruins of magnificent Ephesus, and then savour a long, lazy evening of dining and people watching on the waterfront in pretty little Patmos.

From Heraklion, there is time to see the stunning palace of Knossos, a platinum chip rated UNESCO World Heritage site. And an afternoon in Santorini, spent chilling out on the Olympian heights of Thira, is one of the most unforgettable travel experiences in the world.

It’s worth mentioning that the four day cruises, which sail on a Monday morning, also throw in a full day’s visit to the amazing medieval theme park known as Rhodes. The old town has history in spades, yet the nearby beaches are a sun seeker’s utopia. This one island alone really does have it all.

SIZE REALLY DOES MATTER…

The smaller, comfortable ships operated by Celestyal cruises offer a far more intimate, ‘up close and personal’ view of the islands. In fact, these ships are sailing their own home waters, and their captains know the area better than most. The small size of the ships also means that they can get into the smaller ports, and often much closer to all the good stuff, than the much bigger ships with their thousands of passengers.

And that small size makes for a far more intimate, rewarding on board experience. The ships feature many authentic Greek specialities on their menus in addition to international fare, and there is a very definite emphasis on Greek hospitality on board. In other words, it’s a more genuinely authentic, pared down way to see the islands. One that offers the best of everything.

OVERALL VALUE

Add up all those points above and you’ll realise what a fantastic, time sensitive, cost effective little jaunt one of these cruises represents. Over one slightly long weekend, you can see and do more than many millions of people actually achieve over the course of a lifetime. These trips offer comfort, good pricing, awesome, world famous sights and jaw dropping scenery, plus the chance to just spend a few days’ lazing under that glorious Aegean sun.

Greece? It’s still the word. See you out there.

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

Savour marvellous vistas from atop spectacular Santorini

SOME CRUISE NEWS AND VIEWS FROM THE WEEK

One way and another, it has been quite an eventful few days in the cruise industry. And at least two of the biggest stories originate, or at least impact, on the potentially burgeoning cruise trade in and around Cuba,

Yesterday, MSC Cruises announced that they would homeport the soon to be massively refurbished MSC Opera in Havana from December 22nd, for a series of sixteen, seven night Caribbean cruises that will feature a two night stay in Havana itself as a centre point.

The arrival of MSC Opera marks the first, serious deployment of a very large cruise ship on the Cuban market. Though initially not for sale in America, the cruises go on sale to Europeans as of July 9th. For French and German passengers, these can be complete fly cruise packages. For the UK passengers, they are sold on a cruise only basis.

In related news, the Celestyal Crystal requires repairs after colliding with a tanker while on one of her scheduled, seven day summer cruises from Greece. Mercifully, there were no fatalities or injuries to the people on either ship, but the 24,000 ton Crystal will require complete repairs before putting to sea again.

Whether this will impact the ship’s upcoming, third winter charter to Canada based operator, Cuba Cruise, is too early to say. But, potentially, Celestyal could substitute the similar sized Celestyal Odyssey for the damaged ship if need be.

And on a much happier, note, today the Cunard flagship, Queen Mary 2, embarks passengers in Liverpool for the official celebration of the company’s 175th anniversary. The great liner wills ail westbound for Halifax, Boston, and New York on what is sure to be a remarkable and evocative odyssey.

It was in July 840 that the Halifax born businessman, Samuel Cunard, inaugurated the first reliable, year round transatlantic steamship service, when the diminutive paddle steamer, Britannia, set sail from Liverpool for the port of Boston. In subsequent years, the service centered mainly on New York, but the Boston connection was never completely severed.

The Cunard Line became the first of the great transatlantic steamship companies and today, 175 years later, it remains the last. In that time, it has survived two global conflicts, several world wide recessions, and a near deadly duel with jet airliners for the transatlantic trade. And, though the storied line today concentrates mainly on cruising, the splendid Queen Mary 2 maintains the timeless transatlantic crossing in a style that those first, furtive passengers aboard Britannia could only have dreamed of.

I wish the ship, and those fortunate enough to be sailing aboard her today, a very heartfelt ‘bon voyage’….

QM2 is westbound for Canada and America today on the company's historic 175th anniversary crossing

QM2 is westbound for Canada and America today on the company’s historic 175th anniversary crossing

MSC TO BEGIN WINTER CRUISES FROM CUBA IN DECEMBER

MSC Cruises has announced that it will be the first major cruise line to homeport a ship in Cuba this winter.

According to a report on Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.co.uk), these voyages will be bracketed by a pair of transatlantic crossings.

Originally scheduled to run a season of Canary Islands cruises this winter,  the 2,120 passenger MSC Opera will instead sail from Genoa on December 2nd, arriving in Havana on the 21st. The ship will then depart Havana on April 21st for an eastbound crossing, scheduled to end in Warnemunde, Germany, on May 7th.

Beginning on December 22nd, the soon to be lengthened and refurbished MSC Opera will begin a series of some sixteen, seven night round trips from Havana. In addition to scheduled stops in Mexico, Grand Cayman and Jamaica, all voyages will offer a full, two night stay in the legendary Cuban capital as a compelling central feature.

The voyages, arranged as cruise only packages, go on sale to UK passengers from July 9th. People wishing to add a flight package will find that Air France offers flights from many UK regional airports to Havana, connecting over their main hub at Charles De Gaulle airport, just outside of Paris.

Though these sailings will not be initially available in America, the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana surely means that this will change in the not too distant future.

This bold move represents a real coup for MSC, allowing them to steal a march on all their mainstream rivals in the cruise market. And, with the damage recently suffered by year round, chartered Cuba Cruises’ stalwart, Celestyal Crystal, MSC Opera could well dominate Cuba cruising for the potential future.

These are truly fascinating developments. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

MSC is Cuba bound from December this year

MSC is Cuba bound from December this year

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL IN COLLISION

The 24,000 ton Celestyal Crystal has sustained bow damage after a collision with the tanker, Ste Pimlico, over the weekend.

On board at the time were some 852 passengers and 382 crew. All are reported to be OK, as are the men on board the tanker.

A photograph reveals a deep, wedge shaped gash in the prow of the Crystal- once very well known as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ popular MS Leeward.

The collision happened while the ship was embarked on one of her popular, seven night cruises from Piraeus to the Greek Isles and Turkey.

According to owners, Celestyal Cuises, the damage must be repaired before the ship can continue with its scheduled cruise season. This includes a third, upcoming winter charter to Cuba Cruises to operate the popular round Cuba cruises sold mainly to Canadian passengers.

Celestyal has been very proactive in coming forward with a number of alternative arrangements for those passengers on board at the time. These include; A free, two day hotel stay in Istanbul, free shore excursions, the option of a transfer home, or the possibility of transferring to another ship in the fleet.

In addition, all passengers will receive a full refund on their fare, plus a complimentary, free seven day cruise. This must be taken by December, 2016.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Celestyal  Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

YEAR ROUND CRUISING FROM ATHENS- COMING SOON?

It has been increasingly bruited over several weeks that the port of Athens might be gearing up to become a year round departure port for cruises. With these stories gathering pace, I thought it might be worth a look at the possibilities.

The obvious major contender for this would be Celestyal Cruises, part of the Louis Group. Although their Cristal goes out on charter to Cuba each winter, the company’s biggest ship- the 38,000 ton Celestyal Olympia- is usually laid up in Piraeus from November through to April each year.

That makes for five totally unproductive months when the vessel is doing nothing but racking up port fees while earning no revenue. So, any opportunity to bring in money- especially in the current Greek situation- ought to be a no brainer.

On the other hand, that winter Aegean weather can be famously unsettled. Many of the Greek Islands are tender ports, and any winter storm might well mean foregoing a port of call. Also, the temperatures are going to be a good way cooler than in the high days of summer.

These have always been the main reasons why the domestic Greek cruise scene- that is, Celestyal itineraries- typically begin each March, and then end each November.

But the truth is that, even if some tender ports have to be abandoned because of bad weather, there are quite a number of ports with open berths in  winter- I’m thinking of the likes of Kusadasi and Marmaris- which are likely to be available as viable substitutes. Even in summer, the weather can sometimes oblige cruise ship captains to abandon planned port calls, hopefully arranging some nearby substitute. There is nothing new- or unusual- in this.

And the experience of cruising the Greek Islands in winter would be a more sedate, intimate experience- even on the usual Celestyal three and four night runs.  And Athens’ port of Piraeus certainly enjoys an unrivalled, prime position for sending out ships on short jaunts, or even on longer itineraries to the Holy Land and Egypt. However, the current volatility of the political situation around both would probably

make most firms think twice about that, at least for the foreseeable future.

And- for those who do not think that year round Greek Island cruising is feasible, I’d just remind you that the same was said of the Baltic, when P&O pioneered the first ever winter Baltic Capitals cruise some years ago. These have been quite successful; enough, indeed, for many rival lines to also start offering them.

Also, consider how popular cruises to the often stormy waters of Northern Lights itineraries have now become. Passengers now no longer think that cold weather and rough seas would be an impediment to such an adventure.

And it goes without saying that, even in the depths of winter, the Aegean would be a lot calmer and more benign than either of those options.

Short winter cruises in the Aegean? Hell, why not?

A potentially fascinating development, methinks. As ever, pray stay tuned.

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay

See the amazing Temple of Poseidon on a short Greek cruise and stay