MAIDEN VOYAGE MISHAPS AND OTHER SEAGOING SNAFUS

The legendary SS Norway was nowhere near fully refurbished when she made her 'maiden' crossing to New York in May of 1980

The legendary SS Norway was nowhere near fully refurbished when she made her ‘maiden’ crossing to New York in May of 1980

Back in the day, the idea of going on the maiden voyage of any new ship had an aura of prestige and glamour that appealed right across the travelling community. Especially in the pre and post war heyday of the transatlantic run, the first sailing of any new ship invariably attracted banner headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

Passengers, in turn, were intrigued by the idea of being part of a piece of history; a headline grabbing maiden crossing was, quite literally, a true rite of passage that participants could dine out on for years. Many did just that.

But the pace and poise of the Atlantic run has largely given way to the indolent largesse of the contemporary cruise circuit. With an ever increasing conga line of new ships emerging each new year, does the ‘maiden voyage’ of today still have the cachet of old?

In many ways, a maiden voyage-especially for a first of class ship- is a bit of a leap in the dark. Shipyard delays are a fact of life in some cases. The crew- all of them new to the ship and most of them even newer to each other- have not really had time to perfect that subtle ballet of interaction with their new surroundings, their crew mates and, indeed, their passengers. Simple fact; anyone expecting flawless perfection and serenity should avoid any maiden voyage like the plague.

Conversely, a second of class ship is- in theory- something of a safer bet. The company will have gained practical experience with the prototype ship, and the new ship will invariably have been tweaked to make her more passenger friendly. In addition, a core cadre of experienced crew members will be transferred to the new ship to make sure that the transition from shipyard to passenger service flows more easily.This is simple common sense.

Many things can also go wrong after an existing ship is extensively refurbished. Public areas and some cabins might still be unfinished, and potential passengers should be aware of that. Sometimes shipyards sign up to completely unrealistic work time tables, simply to gain the work for themselves and/or prevent it going to a rival.

When this occurs, a perfect storm ensues. The line bears the brunt of negative headlines, hugely disgruntled passengers and a harassed, overly stressed crew that simply cannot deliver the experience promised in all the glossy, pre launch literature. Nobody wins in situations like this.

In my mind, a ship generally takes a minimum of four months to ‘bed down’ properly into commercial service. And yet…..

There is still nothing like the glitter, drama and sheer, adrenaline pumping surge of being part of a maiden voyage. Everything is new, with that ‘just unwrapped’ feel that creates a compelling, totally electric atmosphere. The sheer sense of occasion is palpable and, of course, all eyes will be on you. The cachet of being among the first to experience a stunning, sprawling new maritime masterpiece is one that is as timeless and irresistible as ever.

All of these factors are things to bear in mind. The bottom line is that you cannot realistically expect perfection on any maiden voyage. It is far more about the sense of occasion than subtle service and polished opulence.

But would I do a maiden voyage myself? Absolutely. But my expectations would be realistic, and not blinded by hyperbole and glitter. Temper your expectations and just savour the occasion.

And it is always worth bearing in mind that the one and only ship that seemed to approach near perfection on her maiden voyage proceeded to ruin it all when she made an all too perfect approach on a half submerged iceberg.

And those, my friends, are headlines that nobody wants to be part of, however exciting and dramatic it all seems in retrospect.

HAVE CRUISE SHIPS SIMPLY GOTTEN TOO LOUD?

It is time for me to confess.

There was a time, about a decade ago, when I said to anyone dumb enough to listen that the cruise lines simply did not make enough use of their outdoor decks as entertainment venues. I argued that the odd bit of live jazz outside- either by day or night- would be a real alternative from a night spent meandering around the bars and clubs down below.

And I was also all for the odd, open air disco out on deck, around the swimming pools. For a couple of hours on a balmy Caribbean or Mediterranean night, an outdoor disco could be a delightfully indulgent alternative.

Now, just a decade or so later, we have come to a time when our eardrums seem to be constantly under assault from a tidal wave of  brutal, massively over amplified inanity, even on sea days. ‘Games’ around the pool, hosted by cruise staff at a level of decibels that can shatter glass ten miles away, vary wildly in quality, from the mildly amusing to the massively moronic.

Let’s be clear here. I am not having a go at the cruise staff, DJ’s and musicians who, as I know damned well, work their socks off round the clock to entertain and amuse the passengers. What I’m railing against is a mind set whose ideas of ‘fun’ seem to be set in stone.

Has it, in fact, gone too far in the wrong direction? I am convinced that, in certain quarters, the powers that be have simply collated increased volume with amplified levels of ‘fun’.

Er, no. It’s not. Well, at least not for all of us.

Being force fed a glut of pseudo exuberant claptrap that masquerades as ‘participation entertainment’ is most definitely not my idea of fun. And yes, being 55 years of age, there is a possibility that you could argue that I am ‘too old’ for this kind of thing.

To which I would reply; No- I’m simply mature enough to feel annoyed and unsettled by this constant, over amplified dumbing down of what should normally be my blissful, relaxing quality time spent at sea.

It wasn’t always like that, of course. Gone are the days of old, when all the entertainment provided would be a live reggae band on deck during the afternoon, laying down a montage of totally apt mood music at an agreeable volume that didn’t have the sharks diving for cover. This was the best of both worlds, because it was ambient and pleasant, as opposed to crude, banal and intrusive.

However, I would agree that there is a place for just this kind of loud, over the top stuff that seems to be spreading across the pool decks of far too many cruise ships like some kind of unstoppable oil slick.

It’s called a frat party. Either that, or Senor Frog’s. Rant over.

This is what a cruise ship's pool deck should sound like.....

This is what a cruise ship’s pool deck should sound like…..

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF THE CARIBBEAN IN WINTER

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

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

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

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

OVERCROWDING

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

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

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

AND MORE ARE COMING…..

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

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

SAME OLD, SAME OLD?

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

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

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

FLY FURTHER SOUTH TO BOARD A SHIP

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

GO SMALLER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CUBA CRUISES- COMING SOON?

Cuba bound soon?

Cuba bound soon?

With the recent news of Barack Obama’s lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba, the mainstream cruise lines are savouring the long cherished possibility of a return of cruise ships to the sultry, long isolated Caribbean island, Famed as a hugely hedonistic destination for Americans in the pre Castro era, it has been largely off limits to cruise ships since 1963.

There are currently a coupe of vessels making cruises around the island. Both the superlative Star Flyer of Star Clippers, and the Celestyal Cristal of Cuba cruises, run seven day itineraries that make a long circuit of the island each week during the winter months. But both of these smaller, more intimate ships cater mostly to an international market- largely Canadian in the face of the latter.

What people are waiting for is the arrival of the mega ships operated by the ‘big boys’ of the industry- Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. And, the way things are looking, that might be sooner rather than later. But there are obstacles that first need to be overcome.

Firstly, the docking facilities in the capital of Havana are nowhere near adequate to handle one big ship, let alone the armada waiting to pounce on Cuba. The infrastructure is raw, and there needs to be far more in the way of air conditioned, tourist coaches for the sightseeing passengers.

That said, none of these are decisive deal breakers. From New Jersey to Jamaica, all of the big lines have proved adept at creating their own, purpose built docking complexes. This is the obvious way forward for Cuba and, though it would entail much co-operation between cruise lines, local tourist board and, of course, government offices, there is no reason why this cannot be done.

For their money, the lines gain access to a hugely sought, legendary destination seen by many as some nostalgic nirvana. Many Caribbean ‘regulars’ are getting tired of the same old islands. Once glamourous destinations such as Nassau now seem jaded and tired. New destinations are always to be welcomed.

And a ship sailing from Florida could easily make a leisurely, fuel conservative weekly sailing to Cuba, docking for three nights in old, storied Havana at what will- initially at least- be absolutely knock down docking fees. And the flow of tourist dollars from each ship load will inevitably boost the local economy massively. Whether that is ultimately for good or ill is too far away to call.

For marketing men, filling cruise ships to Cuba would be the Holy Grail; an ultimate no-brainer that will attract the crowds, looking for the shades of Ernie Hemingwayand his ilk among all the decaying, Mojito fuelled fun on offer.

Obviously, one to watch. I will be following this with great interest.

As ever, pray stay tuned.

THINGS I MISS FROM CRUISE TRAVEL

Ah, nostalgia. It's not what it used to be, is it?

Ah, nostalgia. It’s not what it used to be, is it?

Being an alleged gentleman of a certainly undeniable age, I have been looking back lately at my thirty-odd years of cruising and sailing history through a pair of (Mateus) rose tinted glasses. We can all be wistful with wine and, with hindsight, we become uncommonly wise at times, too.

I am also mindful that I am slowly slipping into a kind of mental quicksand that I define as ‘Victor Meldrew syndrome’; a kind of crusty, sporadically grumpy stupor that has less and less tolerance for the so called ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ of the new. For me, the beneficial onward march of technology peaked with the corkscrew.

In that frame of mind, I came to contemplate some of the things I miss from the good old days of cruising. Feel free to sing along if you know the words…..

PAPER STREAMERS

Scarlet ribbons, scarlet ribbons.. not just scarlet, but every damned colour under the rainbow. How wonderful it was to behold that technicolor torrent of streamers that rained down the soaring flank of some departing cruise ship or liner on sailing day! What fun to aim our fragile paper arrows at friends, family, or indeed anybody that took our fancy. Gone now.

I get it, too; sweeping up that tidal wave of multi hued detritus must have been an arduous, truly soul destroying job for the poor, broom wielding chaps clutching their brooms on the pier. Each one a little King Canute, desperately attempting to keep down a rising tide of coloured tat.

Of course, it is so called ‘environmental concerns’ that did away with this spiffy, life affirming little sailing ritual. But, in the immortal words of the prophets called Madness, ‘Oh, what fun we had’….

ACTUAL TICKET WALLETS

Oh, the moment that your travel agent would write or call to tell you that your travel documents had arrived.

Opening them was like being a kid on Christmas Day all over again. Ridiculous excitement; the herald of good times ahead, writ large in brightly coloured baggage tags and wrapped in faux leather. I pored over every bit of witless, written inanity as if it were the text of the Bible itself. Shore excursion options! Order your on board champagne! Flowers in your room!

Now it’s all e-docs; uniform, alien and utterly lifeless. It’s as if Simon Cowell had been put in charge of streamlining the whole process.  And printing out, cutting and sellotaping your luggage labels? Dear God, give me strength.

Mind you, the spiffy lines still do the whole, magnificent show with proper, apt aplomb. On those days, Victor tends to vanish, and my olden, oft missed sunny disposition surfaces and smiles. Worth having just for that.

POST CARDS

Yes, yes, I know you can buy them now. And also that some ships do still offer them in the folder in your cabin. But at one time they were gratis, easy to grab, and available for all. Small, pretty, and giving you that perfect, airbrushed view that you could never usually get pier side, or from a tender doing its own, unique version of rock and roll at any given anchor port.

OK, that’s it for now. Anything that you miss? Let me know, and let’s be one in our global grumpiness.

FOUR NEW ORDERS FOR FINCANTIERI?

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

MSC look set to confirm yet another two ship order from Fincantieri

I mentioned in a previous blog that MSC Cruises were very strongly rumoured to be about to announce a second pair of new builds, in addition to the pair of new mega ships just ordered from the French shipyard, STX. It now looks like that announcement could be imminent.

The two new Italian builds are bruited to be of around 152,000 tons, with a length of some 310 metres each, and a projected total cost of some 1.4 billion euros. The first ship could be slated for delivery as early as 2017.

And- as previously alluded- the same yard is also expected to announce confirmation of yet another order, this time for a brace of sister ships for Oceania Cruises. Unlike the new MSC designs, these two vessels are reported to be another pair of sisters for that company’s first two, highly popular new builds, Marina and Riviera.

The Italian yard has been fantastically busy, and indeed it still is. As well as the above projected announcements, Fincantieri is also cutting the steel, ready for all four of the Lirica class lengthenings. Beginning at the end of the autumn, each ship will be cut in half, then have a new mid section inserted.

The yard is also in the process of putting the finishing touches to the rival Costa Cruises new flagship, the Costa Diadema, which is due to debut this coming November, and is also building the fourth, expanded Odyssey class ship for Seabourn, as well as the new Seven Seas Explorer for Regent Seven Seas, the first new ship for that line in more than a decade.

The yard has literally just delivered the second of class Regal Princess, and is working now on outfitting the Britannia for P&O Cruises, a vessel built to the same design. In addition, the yard is also building the 47,000 ton cruise ship, Viking Star, for Viking Cruises, and also two similar sized sister ships which have recently been confirmed.

This construction programme amounts to a quite astonishing coup for the Fincantieri yard. While the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean continue to favour the Meyer Werft yard at Papenburg for their new builds, and the once dominant shipyards of Finland seem to be floundering, it is the Italian yard that is picking up orders for a whole raft of diverse new cruise ship designs, ranging from the mass market to the ultra luxury products.

With an enviable record for delivering superb quality vessels, on time and within budgets, the dominance of Fincantieri as the world’s pre eminent builder of cruise ships seems assured, at least for the next few years.

As always, stay tuned.

CRUISE SHIPS ON THE WAY; A ROUND UP

Carnival has a new ship coming in 2016

Carnival has a new ship coming in 2016

With new orders recently placed by lines such as MSC and Royal Caribbean International, and with several other headline vessels nearing completion in various yards, I thought that now might be a good time to recap on what is actually coming down the line in the way of new builds.

This list does not claim to be exhaustive, or one hundred per cent complete. It is more by way of a ‘heads up’ than anything else.

MSC has a pair of new, 160, 000 ton ships of a completely new design on order from STX France. Meanwhile, rumours continue to surface that the Italian company is also about to place an order for another pair of similar sized vessels with Italian favourite, Fincantieri.

Meanwhile, the rival Costa Cruises will take delivery of the Costa Diadema from the same yard this October. The ship- the largest ever built for Costa- will be christened in Genoa on November 1st this year, before embarking on a season of year round, seven night Mediterranean cruises.

At the same time, the astonishing forward momentum of Royal Caribbean International received another boost with the announcement of orders for not one, but two more of the game changing Oasis class cruise ships- the largest the world has ever seen- from STX France. This, in addition to the looming October inauguration of the brand new, first of class Quantum Of The Seas (China bound in 2015) and her sister, Anthem Of The Seas, slated for delivery in the spring of 2015.

Meanwhile, over at the rival Carnival Cruise Lines, the 135,000 ton Carnival Vista is slated for delivery in the winter of 2016. A one off, stand alone ship (so far), this new vessel is not a repeat of the highly successful Dream class ships, but will no doubt be heavily influenced by those vessels.

A new brace of Oasis class siblings is imminent

A new brace of Oasis class siblings is imminent

Also due next year is the new, P&O Cruises contestant, Britannia. This ship-currently taking shape at Fincantieri, Italy- is built on the same platform as the Royal Princess and her sibling, the imminent Regal Princess. 

Sticking with the Carnival stable, Holland America Line will take delivery of its largest ever ship, a 100,000 ton new design known as Pinnacle Class, in the spring of 2016.

Meanwhile, the rival Norwegian Cruise Line is looking forward to next year’s delivery from Meyer Werft of Papenburg of the ‘improved Breakaway class’ new build, Norwegian Escape. A second of class- the Norwegian Bliss- is scheduled to arrive on the circuit in 2017.

Meyer Werft is also creating a pair of similar, 150,000 ton sister ships for Asian affiliate, Star Cruises, the first new builds for that line since 1998. While details are scarce and no names have been confirmed, it seems that these two ships will be built on a very similar design to the Breakaway class.

This is a seemingly endless liturgy of big ships, but there are other new ships coming that offer a more human scale, too. Most eagerly awaited is next year’s Viking Star, the first ocean going new build fo river giant, Viking Cruises. The 47,600 ton ship draws a deliberate bead on high end, traditional luxury cruising and, with two sister ships- Viking Star and Viking Sea-  now also confirmed. this line is definitely going to be one to watch.

In the realm of the sybaritic, Seabourn is one of the most illustrious names. The deluxe line has a fourth ship on order, an enhanced version of the successful Odyssey class, slated for delivery from Fincantieri in the second half of 2016. This new ship will be approximately twenty five per cent larger than her siblings, and will feature one more deck.

Norwegian is building a pair of 'improved Breakaway' class sisters

Norwegian is building a pair of ‘improved Breakaway’ class sisters

Meanwhile, the much bruited Regent Seven Seas new build, Seven Seas Explorer, is now a certainty, too. Another entrant in the all suite, all inclusive de luxe market, this stunning new ship is also being built by the always busy Fincantieri, and is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2016. With all suite accommodation for 738 guests, she will be similar in size to the recently refurbished, hugely popular near sisters, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager.

And lastly for now, but by no means least, Ponant will take delivery next year of a fourth of class vessel, the 10,000 ton, French flagged Le Lyrial. The line is also going all inclusive for the 2015 season.

So, there you have it; quite a roster. And proof, as if proof is needed, that the cruise market is still tremendously buoyant world wide. Happy sailing!

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

QUEEN ELIZABETH TO GET SINGLE CABINS IN REFIT (Updated)

CNV00198Currently undergoing her first major overhaul in Hamburg since her delivery back in 2010, Cunard cruise ship, Queen Elizabeth, is being fitted with nine new, single cabins.

Though the dimensions and prices for these have not yet been put in the public arena, this represents a very welcome move by the company. While the veteran Queen Elizabeth 2 had a fair number of single cabins, none of her three successors- Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth- originally featured any at all.

Needless to say, many people- including yours truly- will hope that both of the other, above mentioned ships will also be retrofitted with some single cabins. Though nothing has been said on the subject, it does seem likely.

In doing this, Cunard is following the example set by sister company P & O Cruises, which incorporated a small number of single cabins into the then new Azura, and then retrofitted a number into both her sister ship, Ventura, and the adults only Oriana.

As well as the single cabins, Queen Elizabeth will also benefit from the installation of 32 inch flat screen televisions in all cabins, the addition of two new, luxury shops, and enhancements to the passenger flow in the self service part of the Lido Restaurant.

The single cabins bandwagon is slowly gathering speed across the mega ship market. Even Royal Caribbean International has been busy retro fitting some of its ships with them. But the slow surge in single cabins can actually be traced back to 2010, and the debut of the Norwegian Epic.

Then, the brand new ‘studio concept’ was introduced, with a block of 128 small, clubby interior cabins done up with funky lighting, as well as a communal bar and lounge. This was so successful that it has now been rolled out on both the new Norwegian new builds that followed, and will also feature on the next two ships, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss. 

None the less, it is hugely gratifying to see Cunard at last tipping it’s head in the direction of the single traveller who, in the past, was put off by the 175 per cent surcharge levied by the line on most of its sailings. It does provide another option for travellers seeking a somewhat more formal ocean going experience than that offered by the opposition.

That said, the dimensions, locations and status of these cabins- are they insides, outsides or both?- plus the per diem rates- remain to be seen. But at least it can be said that Cunard is listening, learning, and adapting to demand, and that is always to be applauded.

As ever, stay tuned.

Update: it seems that eight of the new cabins will be outside with an ocean view, and the ninth will be a standard inside.

A GALLERY OF LINER AND CRUISE SHIP INTERIORS PART ONE

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland

Art Deco staircase, Silver Whisper

Art Deco staircase, Silver Whisper

 

Sansibar pool bar, MS Europa 2

Sansibar pool bar, MS Europa 2

Central lobby vestibule on the Europa 2

Central lobby vestibule on the Europa 2

The Schooner Bar, Majesty Of The Seas

The Schooner Bar, Majesty Of The Seas

The Champagne Terrace on Majesty Of The Seas

The Champagne Terrace on Majesty Of The Seas

Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager

Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Avenue Saloon on board Crystal Symphony

Avenue Saloon on board Crystal Symphony

Crystal Atrium  on the Crystal Symphony

Crystal Atrium on the Crystal Symphony

Grand Staircase on the Norwegian Spirit

Grand Staircase on the Norwegian Spirit

Casino corridor on board Norwegian Spirit

Casino corridor on board Norwegian Spirit

Tiger Bar aboard the MSC Magnifica

Tiger Bar aboard the MSC Magnifica

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

 

GREATER BY FREIGHTER- ALTERNATIVES TO CRUISE SHIPS

Sunsets at sea are no less spectacular when seen from a freighter

Sunsets at sea are no less spectacular when seen from a freighter

If the idea of being on a cruise ship with thousands of other people leaves you cold, the options for enjoying sea travel might appear to be pretty thin on the ground. Sooner or later, it’s likely that you will consider turning your attention to the possibility of a freighter voyage.

It’s an intriguing prospect, to be sure. Many freighters that have passenger accommodation sail on point to point voyages, sometimes spending days on end at sea. If you’re the kind of person that simply likes to kick back and unwind with a few good books, and the endless rolling sea for company, this could be just the thing for you,

With that in mind, this piece would like to throw in a few things for you to factor in when considering making a freighter voyage.

Often you’ll find that cabins on freighters can be a good bit bigger than those on conventional cruise ships, but very few of them will have private balconies. If you need a health spa the size of a small Helsinki suburb, you won’t find one here. Indeed, if you crave endless, animated diversion on any level, then the supine ambiance of a freighter voyage could well be the seventh level of Hell for you.

You should also remember that freighters tend to sail from smaller, often more remote dockside locations than the big cruise ships, and they usually arrive into similarly off the beaten track places. You’ll need to weigh these up carefully when considering any airport or city transfers that you might have to make.

You could take a freighter across the Atlantic to Quebec...

You could take a freighter across the Atlantic to Quebec…

If social interaction is essential to your enjoyment, a freighter might not be best for you. This is a working ship, run primarily to deliver cargo. Your presence is an additional item, not a priority. Fellow passengers may be few and far between and, while you will probably get to dine in the officers’ wardroom at night, opportunities to really meet and mingle with the crew might be fewer than you think.

On the subject of food, you’ll find the choices a lot more finely honed than the endless repasts of the great floating resorts. It will often be very good indeed, and there will usually be a small lounge, ideal for an after dinner drink or two, with a television and, probably, books and board games. But, as far as evening diversions go, that’s pretty much your lot.

Also, these voyages in general tend to cost more per berth than a conventional mainstream cruise ship. But…..

If you like the idea of just watching the sinews of a living, working ship in action, then a freighter voyage can be endlessly entertaining. You won’t be force fed bingo marathons, or find yourself constantly tripping over ever present photographers. Nothing points up the ‘less is more’ ethos of sea travel quite like a freighter trip.

And this is also a real, purposeful voyage, rather than just a giddy jaunt around a series of sunny tourist meccas. There is the real, actual sense of going somewhere on a freighter voyage.

....or even out to the beauty of the Far East

….or even out to the beauty of the Far East

If you’re capable, even eager, to just settle in and savour the bare bones of an actual sea voyage, then a freighter trip can be a hugely rewarding experience. And remember that ‘bare bones’ does not translate to ‘discomfort’- quite the opposite. It just means that you’ll be decorously deprived of all the layers of gambling, shopping and bar hopping options that are the mainstay of the modern cruise experience.

A voyage on a freighter can be an immersive, educational, hugely rewarding experience. Is it for everyone? Of course not, But hopefully, this short piece will have given you some idea of what you might expect if, and when, you decide to take the plunge, as it were.