Norwegian Cruise Line is China bound, and in a big way, too.

Norwegian Cruise Line is China bound, and in a big way, too.

With the newly wrought Norwegian Escape set to launch later this month, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that her forthcoming sister ship, Norwegian Bliss, will be adapted for the Chinese market upon her completion in 2017.

Norwegian Bliss is the second of the so called ‘improved Breakaway class’ vessels and, alongside the Norwegian Escape, she will be the largest vessel ever to be purpose built for the line when she emerges in 2017.

The move comes right in the wake of an announcement from Princess Cruises that that their third in line Royal Princess class ship will also be going straight out from Italy to the Chinese market. Given the name of Majestic Princess, she will carry her name on the bow in both English and Chinese lettering.

While the Chinese market has been booming for some time, nothing gives the truth to it’s strength as the imminent assignment of these new, platinum chip vessels. They will join new builds from the likes of Royal Caribbean to create a series of very tempting first time cruise adventures for the local Chinese market.

What remains to be seen is just how buoyant that market remains in the long term, with the significant slow down of the Chinese economy that is becoming more and more evident.

Beyond these two significant new company ‘flag wavers’ bound for the East, it should be interesting indeed to watch the deployment patterns of other upcoming new vessels coming on stream for the likes of Costa and MSC.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.


As of this afternoon, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that the ship will not be named Norwegian Bliss after all. A new name, as yet unannounced, will be given to the vessel in the near future.


In a move that will surprise few after recent events, Costa Cruises has cancelled all of it’s remaining scheduled calls to Turkey this year. And it seems only a matter of time before other cruise lines follow suit.

The cancellation will cover the major ports of Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum and Instanbul, and represents a huge loss of tourist revenue for the Turkish economy.

Many Aegean bound passengers actually book their cruises with these Turkish destinations as a must see centre point, with sites such as Ephesus, and the great mosque at Haghia Sofia as definite highlights. The knock on effect from actually taking such sites out of the equation remains to be seen, but Costa is quite rightly putting the emphasis on the safety of their booked passengers.

Turkey’s loss is a definite gain for nearby ports in the Greek Islands, which are being added as late season substitutes for the cancelled Turkish calls. The port of Heraklion alone has added at least an extra eighteen new calls from different ships since the news of the Costa cancellations became public.

Tense times continue to plague the usually popular eastern Mediterranean circuit as a whole; it can only be hoped that the political situation settles down in short order before continued uncertainty begins to bite into potential 2016 cruises in the region.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015

Sites such as Gallipoli are off the menu for Costa in 2015


Costa Cruises has just announced that it will be receiving two new ships, each of 180,000 tons, from the Meyer Werft satellite shipyard in Turku, Finland..

The two new vessels are part of the much touted, nine ship order placed by Carnival Corporation for new tonnage across several of its brands. At the time, it was bruited that at least one of these vessels would be a new build for the Italian giant. Four of these contracted new builds were awarded to Meyer Werft- the other two vessels will be for the German Aida subsidiary.

The two new Costa ships will come in with a blockbusting passenger capacity of some 5,200 lower berths, and a total aimed at an incredible 6,600 in all. If these figures are realised, it will give the company the biggest passenger carrying capacity of any vessels afloat.

Current plans anticipates completion dates of 2019 and 2020 respectively for the two as yet nameless ships.

It is only recently that the Italian line took delivery of a new, largest ever flagship- the 132,500 ton Costa Diadema- styled by the line as the ‘Queen of The Mediterranean’.

This order represents a huge act of faith by the parent company in the future of Costa Cruises, coming as it does a scant few years after the tragic loss of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio in January, 2012.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

It's full steam ahead for the colossus that is Costa....

It’s full steam ahead for the colossus that is Costa….


This week brought an endgame of sorts to a duo of needless, long drawn out, totally depressing events in the maritime community. And, worse still, one of these resulted in the irreplacable loss of thirty two innocent people. Both are salient events and, hopefuly, neither will bear repetition.

Firstly, an Italian court finally got round to sentencing the hapless Francesco Schettinio to sixteen years in jail for the catastrophic capsizing of the Costa Concordia in 2012, with the loss of thirty two lives. The sinking of the huge, state of the art cruise ship rocked the entire industry to its very foundations.

I’m not getting into assumptions about the length or suitability- or not- of the sentenece. I am not in possession of all the facts, and simply not in a position to make an emotionless, analytical judgement on said facts.

But what I do know is this; having driven his ship dangerously close inshore like some adolescent yuppie, showing off his brand new Maserati to his friends, Schettino wrecked his ship. Far worse, he then abandoned the hapless thousands entrusted to his care and concern, and fled the scene. This action brought on him the immediate ire and contempt of his opposite numbers of the Italian coast guard. Left to organise a spur of the moment rescue mission in the middle of the night, in freezing cold conditions, their courage, ingenuity and devotion to duty stands as a stark, undeniable contrast to the actions of a man who, once confronted with the enormity of his handiwork, cloaked himself in head to toe denial.

Of course, this availed him little. And, with the lengthy appeals process yet to come, we could be up to the centenary of the disaster before the hapless Schettino himself is steered into a jail cell.

But the man is walking wreckage; his career and future prospects are as bright as that of the ship he destroyed. And, while my sympathies remain totally with the victims of this ghastly tragedy, it is impossible for me not to feel a shred of sympathy for the man himself, while retaining absolute abhorrence at his performance as a so-called captain. Enough said.

Casualty number two appears to be the lovely, beautifuly restored MV Funchal, whose entire summer porgramme of chartered cruises was cancelled this week. This leaves the ship- and, by proxy, owners Portuscale Cruises- effectively shackled to a Lisbon pier for the duration of the year.

While the restoration of this 1961 built classic liner was a thing of beauty to behold, the attempt to charter out Funchal and her fleet mate, Porto, has been a disaster. Third in fleet, Lisboa remains half upgraded in Lisbon, and reportedly up for sale. Only the ongoing, successful charter of the veteran Azores to Cruise And Maritime Voyages seems to be keeping the Portuguese operator on life support. But for how much longer?

Words such as ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ are academic at the moment. Perhaps Portuscale should have concentrated on marketing and sailing the ships themselves, instead of placing them at the beck and call of a conga line of largely whimsical and capricious charterers.

But, whatever, the company has not been good at engaging and getting across the appeal of these unique, soulful quartet of ships. Despite being two years old, only in the last few months has the line opened a Twitter account, for instance. E-mails to their Portuguese offices have just gone unanaswered in the past- and I’m speaking from personakl experience here.

I think it is these two factors that have largely led to the present situation. Is it too late? I hope not. But a radically different course plainly needs to be set.

Otherwise, we are likely to lose one of the most beautifully original and appealing passenger ships still available to travel on today. Make no mistake; the loss of Funchal would be an act of vandalism on a par with taking a scalpel to the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Let us all hope and pray that it does not come to that.

As ever, stay tuned.

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems


The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

The Princess Danae at Kusadasi

Reports are circulating that the partially refurbished MS Lisboa of Portuscale Cruises is up for sale.

The ship broking site has the vessel listed for sale as of December 2nd last year.

Built in 1955 at Harland and Wolff in Belfast as the combination cargo/passenger carrier, Port Melbourne, the vessel was extensively rebuilt by Costa Cruises, re-emerging as the luxury cruise ship, Danae, in 1975.

After passing through various owners, the vessel was reunited with her twin sister, Daphne, as part of the Classic International Cruises fleet. From 1996 to 2012, she sailed as the Princess Daphne for the Portuguese niche specialists, attracting passengers who preferred her unique styling to that of the more modern ship in service.

After the collapse of CIC, the Princess Daphne, along with former fleet mates Arion, Athena and Funchal, were purchased by Lisbon based, start up operation, Portuscale Cruises, with the intention of refitting the vessel and returning her to commercial service. At that stage, she was renamed Lisboa. And, although work did indeed begin, it was suspended last year for reasons not yet made fully clear.

The website reports that the ship is in good enough order mechanically to sail, but cites that work would first need to be done on certain bridge instruments. Bids are invited, but no bottom line price is cited.

As always, stay tuned.


Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

Calmer seas ahead for Costa Crociere?

After a couple of very shaky years, it looks like things are finally moving in the right direction once again for Costa Cruises.

November 1st sees the inauguration of the line’s newest and biggest ever ship, the stunning  Costa Diadema.  The 135,000 ton ship- styled as the ‘Queen of The Mediterranean’- is built on the same platform as the very successful Carnival Dream trio of ships. With interiors designed by the veteran Joe Farcus, the new ship is intended to emphasize the indolent, outdoor lido lifestyle that defines la dolce vita afloat. After her christening, this beautiful new ship will operate seven night cruises in the Mediterranean, with embarkation possible from Barcelona, Rome and Marseilles.

And even bigger may soon be coming. For Costa is reported to be in talks with it’s favoured shipyard, Fincantieri, about a possible, 170,000 ton ship, provisionally slated for delivery in 2019. So far this ship, which would be of an entirely new design, is a stand alone order. She would be the largest purpose built cruise ship ever delivered to any European based line.

Smaller, but auspicious in its own way, is the imminent restyling of the veteran Costa Classica into the Costa NeoClassica. This will take on a similar style and scope to that of her sister ship, the Costa NeoRomantica. The substantially refurbished ship is due to emerge in December, when she will embark on a season of long, languid cruises to the Spice Islands.

Also imminent is the 48,000 ton Costa Celebration, the last of the former Iberocruises fleet now being amalgamated into Costa proper. Extensively refurbished not long ago, this former Carnival veteran will provide the Italian juggernaut with a smaller, more personalised option for passengers who might be averse to the bigger ships.

So is it all music and Moet? Er, not quite. Looking at prices for the two ship Costa deployment in the UAE out of Dubai, weekly rates in November and January 2015 show prices from an unbelievable £199, based on inside cabins on a cruise only fare. Even in the vastly over tonnaged winter Caribbean cruise market, such fares are not seen.

Maybe two ships in the region at the same time is one too many?

In any event, it is to be hoped that better times are, indeed, ahead for Italy’s historic flag bearer in the cruising firmament. Certainly, the Costa Diadema adds a fantastic new, year round option to the traditional, seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ circuit.

For the first time in a few years, it seems that Costa can look ahead with some confidence once more. That’s nice to see.

As always, stay tuned.


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.


Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

Costa Allegra, from a Costa Cruises postcard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

As previously rumoured on this blog, it has now been confirmed that Iberocruises, the Spanish cruise subsidiary of Costa Cruises, will be fully integrated into the Italian Carnival affiliate as of next year.

The Spanish cruise operation- once so buoyant- has been on borrowed time since the local cruise market went bows down in the wake of massive austerity cuts inflicted across the entire Iberian peninsula. The first signs of enforced retrenchment came when the company’s most prestigious ship- Grand Mistral– was hived off to Costa and refashioned as the Costa NeoRiviera.

Then, early last year, the Spanish offices of both cruise products were brought together for the local market.

Next, a recently completed, 4.5 million euro refit of the Grand Celebration was followed with the announcement that she, too, would transfer over to Costa this winter, after completing one last season under the Iberocruises banner. She will be restyled as the Costa Celebration, although no new deployments have been announced for the ship at present.

That left just the Grand Holiday- sister ship of Grand Celebration- as the last remaining vessel sailing for the Spanish operator. It was pretty apparent to most that a one ship line was not long for this world.

Costa CEO, Michael Thamm, apparently announced last month that Iberocruises would be taken off life support, and integrated fully into Costa. I, for one, completely missed this. A spokesman for the Italian juggernaut- itself due to launch a new, largest ever flagship in the shape of the Costa Diadema this November- has since said that ‘a plan’ exists for the future of the Grand Holiday.

Whether that ‘plan’ is as part of the Costa brand remains to be seen.

On the face of it, the two sister ships- both built for Carnival in the mid eighties- seem an odd fit in the Costa fleet. True, they are compatible in terms of size with the handful of smaller Costa ships, but they lack the balconies and extra dining facilities of even those.

It also has to be said that they do not look so good against the vessels of prime rival, MSC Cruises. That line is about to embark on a lengthening and enhancement programme of all four of its smallest ships, designed to significantly enhance their appeal in terms of both accommodation and amenities. And it must be borne in mind that all four of those ships are considerably younger than the two Iberocruises refugees being offloaded onto Costa.

The obvious solution would be to absorb the two ships- along with the Costa Classica- into the NeoCollection offshoot that already boasts both Costa NeoRomantica and Costa NeoRiviera. This product is an attempt to get back to something of the original Costa roots, by providing smaller, more intimate ships that offer an experience built around longer port visits, more in depth itineraries, and excellent local and regional cuisine.

So far, so good. But the question here is whether that still fledgling operation would absorb this three tiered influx profitably in the present, still depressed climate. It seems unlikely at the present time.

In any event, it’s goodbye to Iberocruises at the end of this year. Here’s hoping that the plan Costa has for those last two ships is, indeed, a viable one. No one wants to see more eighties tonnage on the beaches of Alang or Aliaga.

As always, stay tuned.


UPDATE: Carnival’s Arnold Donald has announced today that the Grand Holiday will leave the Carnival fleet entirely at the end of the year. No buyer has been announced for the 1985 built ship as yet.



The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

Almost two and a half years after she hit rocks and capszied off the small Italian island of Giglio, the scarred, ghastly remains of the once proud Costa Concordia are finally ready to begin the final voyage to the scrapyard.

By one of those awful coincidences that seem to litter the pages of maritime history, the 114,000 ton Costa Concordia is going to be demolished in Genoa, Italy, where the ship was originally built back in 2006.

Numerous bids had been tendered to dispose of the partially refloated wreck, including one from Middlesbrough in the UK;  but the choice by Costa of the port of Genoa was made on grounds of proximity rather than cost. The tow from Giglio to Genoa is estimated to take five days. This is probably about as much exposure to open water as the fragile wreck can realistically sustain. As things stand, the tow is slated to begin on July 20th.

The immense salvage operation was the largest ever conducted on a partially sunken ship. Partially refloated by a method known as ‘parbuckling’, the wallowing hulk currently rests on a man made platform. Over the next few weeks, a series of man made sponsons will be attached to the hull, as a prelude to the tow.

The accident, which led to the deaths of thirty two passengers on board, occurred on January 13th, 2012, just hours after the Costa Concordia had left the port of Civitavecchia at the start of a seven night Mediterranean cruise. The story created world wide headlines at the time; a saga  fuelled by the actions of her captain, Francesco Schettino, who abandoned his command while thousands of his passengers were still stranded on board the listing ship.

A court of inquiry subsequently found five officers and crew members of the Costa Concordia guilty of negligence. The trial of Schettino himself is currently ongoing, though at a fairly desultory rate of knots.

Now, with the announcement of the imminent scrapping of the desolate hulk, Costa will no doubt be hoping to assume some forward momentum again. With the recent establishment of the ‘Neocollection’ of cruises being offered on smaller, more intimate ships, and the coming November launch of a new flagship, the even bigger Costa Diadema, the company is slowly gathering way once more.

No doubt the good people of Giglio will be glad to see the back of the grisly, hulking ruin that has blighted their horizon for two and a half years. Having lived through the disaster itself, the rescue, and then the media tsunami that followed, perhaps life there can once again assume a semblance of its former normality.


Word is being circulated via the GCaptain website (http://www.gcaptain.comthat the final timetable outlined above for removal of the Costa Concordia wreck may well be delayed.

A final green light for this was expected oh June 16th this year. However, Italy’s Department of Civil Protection, meeting in Rome to discuss the wreck disposal in greater detail, has asked for a nine day extension to look at the plans for salvage and ultimate disposal in greater detail. A decision is now expected on June 25th.

What effect- if any- these deliberations will have on the plans outlined above is as yet uncertain. As ever, stay tuned.


Yesterday, the last of thirty sponsons was attached to the still half submerged hull of the Costa Concordia. The Italian government has now given final, formal consent for the demolition of the wreck to be carried out in Genoa.

Final preparations were expected to be completed by the middle of July, but with the last of the sponsons now in place, it is possible that she might reach her final port before the original target date, set for the end of this month.

As always, stay tuned.


As of today, the slowly surfacing wreckage has emerged some eleven metres in all, leaving another three metres to go before the long delayed tow to the scrapping berth at Genoa can finally begin.

This will be carried out by what amounts to a funeral cortege of some fourteen vessels; tug boats, oil spill recovery vessels, some multi purpose craft and, apparently, even a sailboat.

Delayed by high winds thus far, this final tow is currently due to start on Wednesday.