NEWCASTLE’S PORT OF TYNE TO HOST THIRTY-NINE CRUISE VISITS IN 2016

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Always a welcome sight at Port of Tyne, the Marco Polo will be back to the port in 2016

2016 will see Newcastle’s Port of Tyne hosting some thirty nine cruise ship calls between April and September, including some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament.

Cruise and Maritime’s flagship, Magellan inaugurates the 2016 cruise season on April 2nd, with the first of five round trip sailings to Norway and the Baltic capitals, before she returns to Tilbury on an overnight sailing on May 20th.

Later in the year, her fleet mate- the veteran Marco Polo- returns to operate two cruises- a Baltic itinerary, and a round trip to Iceland and Greenland.

Long established in northern waters, Fred. Olsen introduces it’s flagship, the gorgeous Balmoral, to the Tyne for the first time in 2016. The ship will operate the largest single round trip deployment from Port of Tyne in 2016. Beginning in May, she will offer some eleven sailings to Norway, round Britain, and even down to the Mediterranean, ranging from five to fifteen nights in length.

2016 will also see the return of some platinum chip prestige vessels on cruise visits, with the sublime Crystal Symphony returning to Port of Tyne on July 7th in the course of a North Sea voyage.

Also back is Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager on both June 8th and August 16th, while Oceania’s highly styled Nautica and Marina also make guest appearances.

Most likely to draw multi generation attention will be the first ever visits by Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Magic will visit the port twice in June; once during the course of a round Britain circuit, and again during a follow on Baltic cruise.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Kongingsdam on August 16th is a real coup for the port. The new Holland America Line flagship will be in ‘town’ on the same day as Seven Seas Voyager. And her slightly smaller sister ship- the Zuiderdam- will also be on the Tyne on July 2nd.

All in all, a busy and prestigious roster of cruise ship tonnage will be showcased at Newcastle/Port of Tyne in 2016. Stay tuned for any updates, or see the complete list (with arrival times and departures) at; http://www.portoftyne.co.uk

 

Thanks to Lisa Donohoe at Port of Tyne for supplying the arrivals list for the Tyneside 2016 season

 

MAGELLAN TO NORWAY- AN OVERVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

FROM STOCKHOLM TO ASTORIA- A BRIEF HISTORY OF A CLASSIC LADY

At a stately sixty seven years old at the time of writing, Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ veteran Azores- soon to be renamed Astoria- can now claim the rightful title as the oldest post war passenger ship still to be in service anywhere. Her story- and her history- is one of the most amazing in the annals of ocean liner travel.

Originally built as the Stockholm in 1948 for the Swedish American line, the 12,000 ton ship was a diminutive minnow when compared to, say, the colossal Cunard Queens. The United States was barely more than a gleam in the eyes of the brilliant William Francis Gibbs. And some, more prescient folk were already eyeing the new generation of propeller driven long haul flights with a certain amount of uneasiness.

It seemed sensible to the ever practical Swedes to introduce this first, modest post war build to the Atlantic trade. The Stockholm carried around 548 passengers in smart surroundings, on modestly luxurious crossings between Gothenburg and New York.

She was not really overly successful in this role, and soon gained a reputation for being a less than stellar sea boat on the Atlantic. And, with a second generation of giant Atlantic superliners now appearing in the forms of the United States and the Liberte, it soon became obvious that she was, indeed, too small to be really competitive.

But she was a pretty little ship, with a graceful, ice strengthened bow and a staunch, single funnel. The Stockholm was not a ship that sought to break records or seek the headlines.

But soon the headlines would seek her.

On the night of July 25th, 1956, the ice strengthened bow of the Stockholm slammed into the port flank of the Italian liner, Andrea Doria, off the coast of Nantucket.

Both ships had been groping their way through a thick fog when the accident happened. The bow of the Stockholm crumpled like so much wet cardboard, killing five of her crew. But, crucially, the bulkhead behind it remained intact. Though her bow was a shambolic, mangled mess of torn steel, the little Swedish liner was never in any danger of sinking.

The Andrea Doria was not so fortunate. With her port side sliced open over the length of several decks, the graceful Italian liner was doomed. She lingered for something like twelve hours before finally plunging under the Atlantic ocean.

The story made headlines around the world. It took a full three months to repair the bow of the Stockholm, but her reputation was tainted forever in many eyes. And, with the successful advent of commercial jet air travel from 1958 onwards, it came as no real surprise when the Swedes decided to sell her on the quiet to East German interests.

Renamed as Volkerfreundschaft, she would sail on as a cruise ship, essentially unchanged, for the next twenty five years. I once saw her in Southampton back in 1986, from the decks of the inbound QE2, and was amazed that she still existed even then.

There then followed a period of use as an accommodation ship for refugees in Norway, under the name of Fridtjof Nansen that last through until 1989. And then, to the amazement of many, the ship- already forty one years old- found a new buyer that was intent on returning her to passenger service.

She was towed round to Genoa- ironically, the former home port of the Andrea Doria- and rebuilt from the waterline upwards as a contemporary style of cruise ship, albeit one with a far more boxy configuration. A vast stern sponson was added to improve her still problematic seakeeping qualities. Her indoor public rooms were redone in a kind of late art deco styling, and she was put back into service, cruising around Cuba and the Caribbean. It was a role that was to continue until 2005.

During this time, she would sail under various names such as Italia Prima, Valtur Prima and, most, memorably, as the Caribe.

Then, in 2005, she was purchased by the Lisbon based Classic International Cruises. Renamed the Athena, she set out on a series of sailings that would take her as far out as Australia and the Antipodes. In the summer, she was often chartered out to German and French groups, for voyages down to the Norwegian Fjords, and down to Croatia.

It was in that latter guise that I got to spend an incredible, truly memorable week aboard her in September, 2010, cruising down to Croatia and Montenegro out of Venice. The ship (see earlier blogs) was a delightful, beautifully styled little time capsule, smartly sailed and immaculately maintained.

When Classic International Cruises imploded after the death of founding father and guiding light, George Potamianos, the ship got yet another life extension when she was bought by a successor company, Portuscale cruises. One of the first things that Portuscale did- and every fortunately, as it turns out- was to charter out the ship to the British operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

The charter ensured that the ship- by now called the Azores- survived the dissolution of Portuscale. she received an extensive renovation and, her with her hull painted black, the Azores now caters to the British market as a small, highly styled cruise ship, a uniquely appealing vessel in an age where ever larger ships seem to be the norm.

At the age of sixty seven, her stout old hull is as sound as ever, and many of her cabins are incredibly roomy. After all, she was built as a transatlantic liner, and cabin space was a hugely important consideration.

If you are lucky enough to sail on her, check out the original, double height rows of portholes in the original main dining room. And, if you look carefully, you might even find one of the original, Swedish American line champagne buckets on board as well.

Quite recently, the original bell of the Stockholm was retrieved from its watery grave, where it had got lost amid the mangled remains of the luckless Andrea Doria. After more than five decades beneath the icy Atlantic, it was briefly returned to the ship that it had left so abruptly on a foggy summer’s night back in 1956.

Happily, no final bell has tolled for the Azores, due for yet another renaming next year as the Astoria. She will be sailing on charter to a French company next year, but there is a handful of sailings available in the UK market on her next spring. And, of course, she still has a very full calendar of cruises to operate for Cruise and Maritime Voyages themselves throughout the remainder of this year.

It is often said that cats have nine lives, but this surely is an instance of at least one ship that can claim the same. At sixty seven not out, this amazing vessel is a ship well worth sailing while she is still around.

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

THE CONTINUED RISE OF COLD WEATHER CRUISING….

One of the things that continues to fascinate me in terms of cruising’s future is the continual, on going rise in popularity of winter time voyages to cold weather destinations, such as northern Norway, and even some of the banner ports in Scandinavia. In the last decade, it’s a type of cruising that has assumed a momentum all of it’s very own.

For a permanent resident of the north east of England, the very idea of winter time cruising inevitably leads me- and, I suspect, most other people- to look at balmy, warm weather options such as the Caribbean, the Canaries, and even the Far East. After all, if God had meant me to spend winter embraced by cold, chilly days and nights, then why put two international airports within forty miles of my front door? The logic seemed inescapable.

Plus, add in the fun in the sun vibe of the Caribbean, and the fact that our winter season is actually the best time to see the fabled treasures and sights of the Far East, and it seemed even more of a no brainer. I have no problem with winter as such. It’s just that I prefer to enjoy it in a hammock. In thirty degree sunshine.

On a beach. With a Daiquiri. ‘Make winter history’ became my mantra.

But over the past few years, some intriguing new options have crept in onto my radar. And, shock horror, some of them involve cruising to colder- far colder- climes, in the depths of winter.

I think it was P&O Cruises that first tried what seemed to me to be a hugely ambitious, winter cruise to some of the Baltic capitals, as a round trip from Southampton. In an industry where repetition and continuity are so often the buzz words, just the idea of a winter Baltic cruise seemed incredibly audacious, and at least worthy of further investigation.

As a long time fan of such cities as Copenhagen and Oslo, I have to admit that I would be curious to see them in winter. And this new cruise promised overnight stays in both- alluring in its own right. A great chance to really get into and around all the fairy tale Christmas markets, and also to sample some of the local nightlife ashore. Would I be prepared to eschew my normal, sunnier winter sojourns for such a wildly eclectic itinerary?

Not straight away. But I was beginning to wonder…

And then came the advent of winter cruising to northern Norway. Offered as a round trip from various UK ports by both Cruise and Maritime Voyages and Fred. Olsen, these fourteen night winter odysseys to view the shimmering, ethereal skyscapes served up by the magical Northern Lights, really did make a very deep impression on me.

So I began to look at what I perceived might actually work against each option. Of course, the bone chilling cold would preclude using the outdoor pools and hot tubs. And a buffet lunch in the sun was looking highly unlikely. If I went for either of these cruises, I would have to consider my expectations of the actual shipboard experience in a very different light.

But, a few years down the line, and I actually think I could really do one of these trips, and probably enjoy it immensely. And the winter time Baltic cruises have grown in popularity to the extent that even Cunard is now occasionally offering them.

What really won me over is the wonderful brochures, usually produced by Norwegian Coastal Voyages, for their year round, Huritgruten adventures that sail the entire length of Norway, year round.

These articulate the sheer beauty and diversity that each season brings to Norway with such depth, eloquence and inclusivity that I would certainly now put at least one such, short cruise on my prospective calendar. And I think that this new, very real stream of actual information in helping to drive cold weather cruising as a whole.

Like many people, I was something of an ignoramus as to what was actually ‘out there’ on such winter voyages. I knew that cold days and nights were definitely out there at a time when I could be chilling- pun wholly intentional- on some surf kissed Caribbean beach.

But now I know how wonderful, magnetic and alluring the Northern Lights can be. I can sense the sheer, epic adventure of going dog sledding across a sea of fresh, glistening snow under a blanket of gossamer pale Arctic twilight.

I can appreciate how warm pools of light on snow kissed cobble stones might give me a different, delightful take on ‘wonderful’ Copenhagen, or how a glass of warm, spicy wine in a Hamburg bier keller might be the perfect end to a day of spectacular, very different Christmas shopping along the festive expanse of the Alster.

I get how wonderful the tall, slender spires of Stockholm would appear, even through a veil of icy mist. And I can envisage the sheer, splendid peace of sailing between jagged, snow shrouded ravines deep within a Norwegian fjord, while reindeer gaze idly at our ship as she passes by on what looks like a sheet of slowly cracking ice.

I can appreciate how fresh and vital the air would feel, cold or not. And I now get that those winter time skies can provide me with panoramas every bit as mesmerising as anything that I have seen in Asia, or out in the South Pacific.

In short, good travel copy and advertising really does work. Though pretty well travelled, I was obviously in need of education. And now that I have had the education, I have thrown off at least some of my reserve.

And there is also something of the desire to get a bit ‘off the beaten track’ that is fuelling this nascent curiosity of mine. I suspect that the same also holds true for many other people, too.

So, winter cruising in colder climes really is something that I would consider now. I have been lured out of my indolent, sunny torpor with the notion of doing something that looks fresh, vital, and inherently rewarding in a totally different kind of way.

Mind you, that’s not a complete, one hundred per cent capitulation. Oh, no.

I still expect to find my personal, carefully hidden hammock waiting for me when I rock up on Cane Garden Beach in Tortola this year. And when I get there, the only ice I expect to see is in my first Margarita.

I’m sure you get the picture. But it takes more than one picture to make an art gallery. And travel, if it is anything at all, is surely a kind of art form.

You pick the colours. And you decide on the canvas you paint your impressions on. For sure, there are many different options out there.

Cherish them all.

The might of Kjollfossen, in Norway. Imagine it frozen over in winter time....

The might of Kjollfossen, in Norway. Imagine it frozen over in winter time….

WILL FRED. OLSEN BUY ANOTHER SHIP SOON?

Riding high on the obvious success of its big fleet ‘get together’ in Bergen yesterday, the good people at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines will enjoy basking in the glow of public acclaim that they have enjoyed from right across the cruising fraternity.

And quite right, too. Because Fred. Olsen- like it’s rival, Cruise and Maritime Voyages- does offer something totally unique; a hugely welcome alternative to the serried ranks of megaships that now form the bulk of fleets such as Cunard and P&O. And, with excellent levels of food and service allied to a warm, intimate scale, I suspect that the allure of both the smaller British operators will grow markedly over the next decade or so.

And, in the case of Fred. Olsen, we are talking about what is, in essence, still very much a family owned firm. Sea minded since day one, the Olsen family takes a keen interest in the handling, development, and even the day to day operation of the fleet. It’s a symbiosis that is rare indeed in an age where balance sheets rule the waves.

Many people were saddened when the pioneering Black Prince, the original, inimitable Fred. Olsen cruise ship, was retired from service in 2009. At the same time, some expressed unease at the acquisition of the 43,000 ton Balmoral- a ship then quite a lot larger than anything that the company had ever owned before. Would the age old Olsen attributes of intimacy and ease of access be lost with this larger vessel, the first in the fleet’s history to boast a passenger capacity in excess of a thousand?

The naysayers were proved wrong. Balmoral has become a very popular and successful ship since entering service, and an ideal foil to the already established, classic trio of Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch. Her bigger capacity allows for enhanced dining options and a bigger entertainment handle that have made her ideal for longer, round the world voyages, while giving away nothing in terms of warmth and spaciousness. I have sailed on her twice- both before and after her purchase by FOCL- and still consider her to be one of the finest and most stylish cruise ships afloat anywhere today.

So, with things looking quite good at the moment, is it the right time for Fred. Olsen to consider a modest fleet expansion and, if so, what kind of ship might they be looking at?

It’s pretty much a given that the line does not ‘do’ new builds. It has made the purchase and prudent conversion of second hand ships into gracefully enhanced, eminently serviceable vessels, into something of an art form over the years.

The great advantage of such a strategy is that the line is not kept waiting three or four years for a purpose built new ship. A vessel bought ‘off the market’ can be upgraded and improved in less than a quarter of that time, and at infinitely less cost. And, having been so successful on the second hand market, I’m guessing that this is the road that FOCL will take again. The only real question is; what ship would they buy, given the chance?

It is no secret that the line has long been interested in the Prinsendam of Holland America Line for quite a few years. Originally built as the Royal Viking Sun for the legendary Royal Viking Line back in 1989, she was- and still is- one of the most exclusive and opulent de luxe ships at sea; one so totally individual in style and character that Holland America advertises her as their ‘Elegant Explorer’.

In the past, Holland America have always declined to part with her. But, in the last few years, the company has been slowly divesting itself of smaller ships in favour of larger, more diverse vessels such as Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam, and the forthcoming new flagship, the Koningsdam, which is due to debut next year. What seemed unlikely three or four years ago may well be more of a possibility now.

Certainly, the Prinsendam would be a perfect fit for Fred. Olsen. At just under 39,000 tons and with a current capacity for some 740 passengers, the ship is roughly in line, size wise, with Balmoral, though I expect FOCL would probably increase her passenger capacity by around 100-150. Probably, the line would like to add more balcony cabins- a popular facility that the line no longer swims against the tide on.

And it would also make for a happy reunion with two of her former Royal Viking Line fleetmates- Boudicca (the former Royal Viking Sky) and Black Watch (once the Royal Viking Star). And, no doubt, the Olsen family would enjoy the chance to preserve and enhance this classic piece of traditional Norwegian cruising excellence.

This would certainly be a transition that would make sense for both lines, if the price was right. Obviously, the Prinsendam would need a certain amount of cosmetic surgery to bring her in line with her quartet of prospective sisters, but nothing too radical. The Prinsendam is a very finely styled lady as she is.

A fascinating prospect, and a possible future Fred. Olsen project? Stay tuned…..

is it time for Fred to become five?

is it time for Fred to become five?

WHAT DISTINGUISHES CUNARD FROM OTHER BRITISH CRUISE LINES?

On the face of it, the very question might seem risible to some. Many savvy, well informed and even better travelled people peruse this blog. You know who you are, and you know your stuff.

But what if you’re a neophyte, dipping your toe into the cruising arena for the first time, and not really cognisant with the nuts and bolts of maritime history? A premise which, if we’re honest, covers by far the greater number of people in the cruising stream these days. That’s not meant as a snide dig- it’s just a fact.

How would you explain the concept- and the reality- of Cunard as it is, to them? How would you rank the line to other UK operators, such as P&O cruises, Fred. Olsen, and Cruise and Maritime Voyages?

For what it’s worth, here’s my take;

The main difference comes in the form of cabin accommodation, graded to different dining areas. The Grills- Queens’ and Princess Grills- create a separate enclave within each of the three Cunard ships- Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2, tied to the most exclusive (and expensive) accommodation on board each ship.

Many people do not like either the theory or the actuality of this, as it creates what they perceive to be a ‘class conscious’ ship, harking back to the old, three class North Atlantic heyday. But, in fact, it’s a scenario also beginning to resurface even on supposedly more egalitarian lines, such as MSC and Norwegian- the ‘ship within a ship’ where those who can afford to pay for more privacy, space and exclusivity, complete with more polished, personalised service, are happy to do so.

On Cunard, the Grills are open seating, whereas the main dining rooms operate on a two sitting basis for dinner.

If your tastes and bank balance stretch to the Grills, then you will enjoy fine dining. gracious service, and a very elegant, elevated overall voyage experience. And, if you are spending all that money, you are frankly entitled to nothing less. But still, the entire notion creates resentment in some quarters. If that’s the case, you need to look at a different product. There are plenty of options out there.

The dress codes on Cunard are unquestionably more formal than on any of the other British lines, and especially so on the Atlantic crossings of the Queen Mary 2. But stripping Cunard completely of its formality and elegance would be like gutting the Ritz, and turning it into a fast food outlet.

The whole notion of timeless elegance at sea is endemic to the experience of Cunard; without it, the voyage would, indeed, be a much poorer experience. An anaemic aberration that would dilute everyone’s sense of pleasure and anticipation.

Truth be told, there has been a slight unbuttoning of the dress codes in the last few years, though it is still probably too formal for the ‘sun and fun’ brigade. And, if you really don’t want to dress up for dinner after a hard day’s carousing in the Caribbean- and I fully get that- then there are other, more causal lines out there.

But, my word, the sheer fun of getting done up in your evening glad rags for a night of Cunard- style dining and dancing is a fabulous, giddy fairground ride in it’s own right. And nobody- and I do mean nobody- does formal events, such as the Captain’s Cocktail Party, better than Cunard.

More than anything, however, Cunard’s 175 year history and priceless heritage renders it as a thing apart to the rivals (honourable exception: P&O, which is even older at a sprightly 178). As much as anything, Cunard has always been an idea in the public eye; an ocean liner sailing under a sky full of glittering stars, where millionaires and movie stars in full evening dress dance on deck to the music of a big band.

For some, the idea of being part of that storied history is compelling, and reason enough alone to book. But, of course, you need to be aware of that history to really ‘get’ it in the first place.

That’s where the ‘heritage trails’ laid out through all three ships of the current Cunard fleet form such a fascinating backdrop; evocative and informative by turn, they wind through each ship like some kind of timeline; a line of seamless, golden thread that really links the past to the present. A kind of easy to absorb maritime primer, if you will, the somehow seamlessly absorbs itself into your psyche over the course of a voyage.

There is nothing else quite like this at sea on any other fleet; for the very simple reason that no other company has a history like that of Cunard. And, more than anything, that is the real deal about sailing on this most illustrious and storied of British lines.

Whether that makes Cunard the best choice for your own personal tastes is, of course, for you to decide. But, as an experience overall, the Cunard brand- even today- continues to put clear, blue water between itself and its competitors.

And there are many people out there still more than happy to pay for distinctiveness, whatever from that may take.

QM2's ballroom; the very essence of formal flair and finery afloat.

QM2’s ballroom; the very essence of formal flair and finery afloat.

LITTLE GEMS; SHIPS I’M GLAD THAT I ENCOUNTERED…..

For someone like me, born and blessed with a deep and abiding love of the great ocean liners, it has been an incomparable thrill, privilege and pleasure to sail on many of my favourite ‘ladies’ over the years.

The likes of Norway, QE2, Canberra and Rotterdam were all wonders that did not disappoint. And yet, in so many ways, I am just as enriched by sailing on many of the smaller, more traditional ships that have now mostly sailed on beyond the breakers. Many of these ships were- or are- just as big on character as those grand dowagers that have now rang down ‘finised with engines’ for the last time.

There were the two wonderful, heavily rebuilt sister ships that sailed for Classic International Cruises; Princess Daphne and her near identical twin, Princess Danae. I sailed on the Danae twice, and her sister ship just the once.

They were long, low seaboats, with a hull that curved slightly upwards at both bow and stern like some kind of wry, supine smile. The aft lido decks were some of the biggest and most expansive of any ships afloat. Each boasted huge cabins with thick, chunky furniture, and a suite of public rooms that ran out to the hull along both sides, a window walled, heavily mirroed promenade that made strolling a true delight. And, despite being only around 17,000 tons each, they were both superb as sea boats, proper 1950’s paragons that were as elegant as they were warm and unassuming.

The Ocean Countess was definitely of the next generation. Sleek with her swept back, aerodynamic funnel, rakish bow and squared off stern, she was as ‘seventies modern’ as it was possible to get back in 1975. Her cabins were so small that they would have left the average pygmy in agonised contortions.

She had a lofty oberyvation lounge with glass walls that afforded fabulous views out over the bow. To her last days, engraved Cunard ‘lions’ remained etched into the glass doors that led into this room.

There was a centrally sited pool and hot tub lounging area midships, perfectly shaded from the wind, and a fabulous indoor/outdoor night club that extended out over the stern. On warm summer nights in the Aegean, there were few more perfect places anywhere for watching a mellow sunset. She was a fine, funky little ship, one whose heart and character more than made up for her shoe box sized accommodations.

The Marco Polo, happily, remains with us. Now in her fiftieth year, she is literally unmistakable for any other ship, with her glorious, curved prow, stately single funnel and series of elegantly stepped terraces cascading down her stern in a veritable torrent of immaculate teak.

Inside, a run of perfectly proportioned Art Deco lounges and bars allow for a stately evening’s progress through a series of softly lit venues, suffused with wonderful live music. The trim blue hull and sparkling white superstructure truly mark her out as a thing apart. Whether stealing into a magnificent, mist shrouded Norwegian fjord at dawn or lounging off the hot spots of the French Riviera, the Marco Polo looks- and feels- utterly different to anything else out there today.

I remember the stately little Odysseus, too. Built in 1962, she endded her days with Epirotiki, which then became Royal Olympic Lines before it went bankrupt in the wake of 9/11.

She, too, had a long and low hull, swathed in shades of pristine royal blue. Her funnel- small, domed and slightly swept back- seemed out of all proportion to that seemingly endless, long hull.

Truth be told, she had quite a short superstructure and, like the CIC twins, she boasted an enormous, seemingly excessive amount of outdoor deck space aft, running all the way to the fantail. My most vivid impression of this quirky, quite intersting little ship was that she felt a hell of a lot bigger than her supposed 12,000 tons.

So, there we go- just a few of the ships that flit in and out of my memory like patches of Atlantic fog. If this article appeals, please let me know, and I’ll look at the possibility of a follow up piece in similar style.

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

ET VOILA! CMV ENTERS THE FRENCH CRUISE MARKET IN 2016

With just a month to go before it’s 2016 summer season goes on sale, Cruise and Maritime Voyages has announced that it will be entering the French cruise market for the summer months next year.

The French company, Rivages du Monde, will be chartering the 16,000 ton Azores from CMV for a series of sailings as far afield as Greenland and the Adriatic. The famous ship- well known to many as the former Stockholm of 1948- will sail from a variety of ports on the French mainland, including Bordeaux, Dunkirk, Le Havre and Marseilles, as well as the Belgian port of Ostend.

Prior to the lucrative French charter, the 550 passenger ship will be renamed as Astoria, after which she will embark on a two month series of cruises from the United Kingdom.

The renamed Astoria will make her initial sailing for Rivages du Monde on May 11th. The company is a Paris-based operator specialising in cruising and in depth touring adventures.

This announcement is certainly good news to anyone that appreciates the concept of classic cruising on an intimate, laid back style of ship where personalised service is complemented by the ability to sail into smaller, more exclusive harbours that are too logistically challenging for the newer, larger vessels now in service.

As ever, stay tuned.

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ly looking as regal as ever.

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

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

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

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

 

CMV TAKES DELIVERY OF MAGELLAN

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

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

Cruise and Maritime has today taken delivery of it’s ‘new’ flagship, the 46,052 to Magellan. The ship, built in Denmark in 1985 as the Holiday for Carnival, is at present en route to Genoa to begin an extensive refurbishment, prior to a string of media events before sailing on her maiden voyage- a Northern Lights itinerary- from Tilbury on March 15th.

Though initial artist impressions suggested otherwise, the ship will in fact retain the famous, swept back, gull wing funnel that was her trademark in her Carnival days. And, since her cruises went on sale on November 3rd last year, CMV is reporting that some sixty per cent of her entire 2015 programme has sold out, proving the truth that there is a market in the UK for smaller, more personalised ships.

Part of this success is due to the large number of single cabins that the company is making available on the ship. With even the inside cabins coming in at around 185 square feet, the Magellan actually offers the largest standard cabins- both inside and outside- of any cruise ship in the mainstream UK market.

With a programme of cruises sailing from Tilbury, Newcastle and Dundee over 2015, the Magellan offers a range of diverse sailings, from short, weekend city breaks to Amsterdam and Antwerp, to a season of Canary Islands cruises.

For more news as it becomes available, stay tuned.