OASIS 4- GOING WHERE, EXACTLY?

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

As attention here in the UK focuses on two ship launches next month- P&O’s Britannia in Southampton on March 10th, and the Tilbury inauguration of Cruise and Maritimes’ Magellan at Tilbury on the 12th, STX shipyard in France has quietly begin cutting the steel for the fourth of the gigantic, 220,000 ton Oasis class shps yesterday over at Saint Nazaire.

To put her in some kind of context, this monster ship alone is more than twice the size of the combined total tonnage of the four ship Cruise and Maritime fleet. She rounds off- for now at least- the most physically spectacular quartet of passenger carrying vessels ever built. But the big question is; where will she go?

With her already complete pair of siblings sailing the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale- and Allure Of The Seas making her summer European debut this year- you have to wonder if there is a winter Caribbean market for even another one of these gigantic vessels, let alone the pair that are now officially underway.

Each week, Oasis and Allure both disembark  6,500 passengers, before embarking the same number again- an extraordinary through footfall of 26,000 passengers through the Florida port for these two ships alone. And, while no one can doubt that this is an extraordinary logistical feat- indeed, an unparalleled one- it has to be asked if one or two more such monsters could be viable in the serially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise trade.

So, where would you send one or both of these ships- each of them the size of a small city- to fill them? Obviously, Royal Caribbean has long since done the numbers, and has a plan that works for them. But, as we are in the dark regarding the itineraries for these ships, we’ll have to indulge in a little speculation.

It is entirely possible that one, or perhaps even two, of this extraordinary quartet could go straight to China, for cruising in the Far East. Like the rival Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean fully recognises the vast potential of the Chinese market. In point of fact, I’d put money on one- or perhaps even both- of these new ships being China bound soon after completion.

I would also expect that we will now see an annual European cruise season each year for one of these ships, primarily in the Western Mediterranean. I expect the Allure Of The Seas will be hugely popular in 2015 as she gears up for her first ever season of seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruises out of Barcelona. That being a given, it would be pretty unwise for Royal Caribbean not to repeat the experience on a yearly basis, though whether the line will keep a ship on this scale on year round European cruises might yet be a bridge too far.

Interesting times in the mega ship market, for sure. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

MSC EXPANSION GETS INTO HIGH GEAR

It's full speed ahead for MSC Cruises

It’s full speed ahead for MSC Cruises

It seems as of nothing can stop the break neck expansion of MSC Cruises these days.

With the newly stretched MSC Armonia now back in service and cruising around the Canary Islands, near sister MSC Sinfonia has taken her place at the Fincantieri shipyard for her own ‘chop and stretch’ extension.

The ship is to be followed by her two near siblings, MSC Opera and MSC Lirica, both of which will be similarly stretched and enhanced before the end of the year. This will round out the ambitious, so called ‘Renaissance’ programme.

The scale of this four ship operation, carried out over the course of a calendar year, has no equal in the history of the cruise industry. It is a quite staggering achievement and, incredibly, it has been massively overlooked by the industry.

Meanwhile, reports are circulating that the Italian line will exercise a series of option already bruited.

A third ship will come from the Fincantieri yard to join the two mega ships already under construction there. Meanwhile, the two ships under construction at STX France may be complemented with another pair, of similar design.

If these reports are, indeed, true, then that will give MSC Cruises a mind boggling total of seven new ships under construction.

The sum total of these new builds, plus the increased capacity of the extended quartet, should be to expand the company’s passenger volume to around 3.4 million passengers a year from 2022, around double the current, already impressive level.

Ever since it’s modest introduction with a trio of second hand ships in the mid 1990’s, MSC Cruises has expanded massively in both style and scope. The line is currently led by the splendid, 133,000 ton Fantasia class vessels. The on board experience is essentially Italian, with many passengers also coming from France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

In summer, the fleet offers a wide array of itineraries in Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, and also the Adriatic. Winter sees additional deployments to the Caribbean and South America, the Canary Islands, the United Arab Emirates, and even South Africa.

Stay tuned for updates.

COSTA; COMING ON STRONG

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.

ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY PART TWO

This is another selection of photos taken on board the Athena in 2010. Enjoy!

Main lounge on the Athena

Main lounge on the Athena

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Another interior lounge shot from 2010

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Wall fresco on the main passenger deck

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

Inside the lido buffet at the stern

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

The Athena off Kotor, Montenegro

A beautiful ship in her natural element

A beautiful ship in her natural element

The view through my cabin porthole

The view through my cabin porthole

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

Terraced lido deck of the Athena

The stern sponson, added for stability

The stern sponson, added for stability

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Lobby staircase aboard the Athena

Spilt, seen through the round window

Spilt, seen through the round window

ATHENA PHOTO GALLERY

Since the news came that Cruise And Maritime Voyages is to charter the 1948 built Azores from Portsucale Cruises for a full season of ex-UK cruises in 2015, I thought I’d put together some photos, taken aboard her in September, 2010. At that time, she was sailing as the Athena for the now sadly defunct Classic International Cruises. I enjoyed a fabulous, early autumn swing aboard her, through the highlights of Croatia and Montenegro, on a week long round trip out of Venice. This really is one of the last, old school cruise ships still out there. I hope you enjoy these pictures of this charismatic, pretty little ship as much as I enjoyed sailing on her.

Captain's Lounge on board the Athena

Captain’s Lounge on board the Athena

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Forward facing show lounge from the stage

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces

Upper deck walkways

Upper deck walkways

Lido and stern walkway

Lido and stern walkway

Athena three quarter shot

Athena three quarter shot

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Bow shot of Athena at anchor

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Art Deco light fixture in the lobby

Stern walkway at sunset

Stern walkway at sunset

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The Athena on the Croatian Riviera

The silhouette is still quite stunning

The silhouette is still quite stunning

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Playing peek a boo between the palms

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Close up of the funnel with CIC logo

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Bow shot. Note the riveted hull

Close up of the name and hull plating

Close up of the name and hull plating

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper deck against a Croatia backdrop

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Upper level main lounge of Athena

Main staircase and light fixture

Main staircase and light fixture

CMV CHARTERS PORTUSCALE VETERAN FOR 2015 SEASON

Upper deck terraces of the Azores

Upper deck terraces of the Azores

It has been announced today that Cruise and Maritime Voyages will charter the 550 passenger MV Azores from Portuscale Cruises as a replacement for the 1972-built Discovery, one of the original ‘Love Boats’ from the popular seventies television series.

Effective from January of 2015, the Azores will sail year round from Bristol on a series of as yet unspecified itineraries.

In any event, this deal looks good for both lines. Portuscale, still a relatively fledgling operation beginning to find its way, gets a substantial cash infusion, as well as gainful employment for its biggest ship guaranteed for a full year at least.

For CMV, the Azores is an excellent choice to replace Discovery. The latter ship is being put up for sale by her actual owners, All Leisure Group. 

With a capacity of 550 passengers, the Azores is, ironically, far older than the ship she will replace. Built in 1948 as the Swedish American Lines’ Stockholm, she became infamous for the July, 1956 collision off Nantucket that resulted in the sinking of the Andrea Doria. 

The ship was stripped mostly down to her riveted hull in the early nineties, and extensively rebuilt as a small, but very comfortable cruise ship. Though her passenger capacity of 550 is a few hundred less than that of Discovery, the extent of her rebuild ironically makes her a far more contemporary ship. The main dining room, located low in the hull in the old transatlantic tradition, has rows of double height portholes down both sides, and even some of the original Swedish American ice buckets still on board.

Cabins aboard the Azores include a set of spacious, upper deck midship, two room suites with balconies, and some exceptionally spacious rooms across most grades.

There is no alternative restaurant on board the Azores; but the ship has extensive deck space, including some very well designed terraces,and even an old style walkway that totally circles the stern itself.

The stern walkway on the Azores

The stern walkway on the Azores

As for the Discovery herself, there has been no word as of yet what her fate might be. All Leisure did have her listed for sale at around five million dollars. Her twin sister ship, the former Pacific Princess, went to the breakers last year after several years’ lay up in Genoa.

This does not mean that Discovery will necessarily suffer a similar fate; she is in far better condition than her late sister ship was at that stage. All the same, many in the maritime community will once more be mentally bracing themselves for the potential loss of yet another classic ship to the insatiable breakers yards of Turkey and India.

As always, stay tuned.

CRYSTAL SYMPHONY PHOTO ALBUM 2009

An on board set of photos, taken in 2009 aboard one of the finest and most legendary luxury ships built since the Second World War- the astounding, always exceptional Crystal Symphony….

Looking up from aft

Looking up from aft

Close up of the aft, tiered decks

Close up of the aft, tiered decks

Out on my suite balcony

Out on my suite balcony

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Crystal Cove lobby

Crystal Cove lobby

The Palm Court

The Palm Court

The Pool Deck

The Pool Deck

Pool Deck, looking aft

Pool Deck, looking aft

Under the Magrodome

Under the Magrodome

Looking down at the Lido Terrace

Looking down at the Lido Terrace

Name board on the port side

Name board on the port side

Beautifully sculptured aft terraces

Beautifully sculptured aft terraces

Another Pool Deck shot

Another Pool Deck shot

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

Sitting area of my penthouse

Sitting area of my penthouse

Crystal Symphony lunchtime buffet

Crystal Symphony lunchtime buffet

Magrodome pool, since replaced

Magrodome pool, since replaced

The best view of them all....

The best view of them all….

Inside the Palm Court

Inside the Palm Court

Palm Court piano

Palm Court piano

Corridor outside the cinema

Corridor outside the cinema

The elegance of Crystal Cove

The elegance of Crystal Cove

STUNNING RIVERSIDE SIGHTS-MAGICAL SCENERY ALONG THE NILE, RHINE, SEINE, DOURO AND SAINT LAWRENCE

Felucca on the Nile, Aswan, Egypt

Felucca on the Nile, Aswan, Egypt

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec, on the Saint Lawrence seaway

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec, on the Saint Lawrence seaway

Chateaux line the valleys of the Seine

Chateaux line the valleys of the Seine

The unique 'wedding of the waters' at Tapajo, Brazil

The unique ‘wedding of the waters’ at Tapajo, Brazil

Local life along the winding Amazon

Local life along the winding Amazon

Porto's hilltop location is absolutely stunning.

Porto’s hilltop location is absolutely stunning.

Santa Maria Do Borbo, typical ancient Portuguese architecture.

Santa Maria Do Borbo, typical ancient Portuguese architecture.

The Tower of London on the Thames

The Tower of London on the Thames

The approach to Karnak is epic

The approach to Karnak is epic

The Nile is eternal

The Nile is eternal

Close up of one of those amazing, ageless statues

Close up of one of those amazing, ageless statues

Cologne's world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathdral

Cologne’s world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathdral

One of the amazing confections that lines the old Graslei harbour

One of the amazing confections that lines the old Graslei harbour

Canal side scenes like this one typify Ghent's old world appeal

Canal side scenes like this one typify Ghent’s old world appeal

This is Arnhem's pretty little cinema, set on the town square

This is Arnhem’s pretty little cinema, set on the town square

The reconstructed 'Bridge Too Far' is an exact replica

The reconstructed ‘Bridge Too Far’ is an exact replica

Not sure which surprised me more- beaches or sunbathing horses!

Not sure which surprised me more- beaches or sunbathing horses!

Hoorn waterfront

Hoorn waterfront

Row upon row of serried plane trees

Row upon row of serried plane trees

Amazing vistas stretch in all directions on the Nile

Amazing vistas stretch in all directions on the Nile

Sunset on the Nile at Kom Ombo

Sunset on the Nile at Kom Ombo

Sunsets were tender, mellow feasts

Sunsets were tender, mellow feasts

Another shot from further out

Another shot from further out

ROYAL PRINCESS ON THE TELLY, AND SHIPS ON SCREEN BEFORE HER…..

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one...

Ironically, no ship has popularised cruising on the TV screen as much as this one…

The news today that Royal Princess is to be the ‘star’ of a new, four part ITV television series should not come as too much of a surprise, given the history of Princess Cruises and the world famous Love Boat series of the seventies and eighties. That particular show- mass marketed and seen worldwide- was a massive boon in boosting cruising’s visibility. Needless to say, it did not exactly hurt the coffers of the parent company, either.

Obviously, Princess Cruises is hoping for some kind of bounce one more time in exposing it’s newest, fully fledged star to media scrutiny. Celebrity Cruises endured a similar series of programmes a few years back, when everyday crew life aboard their then Galaxy made an unlikely star of Jane McDonald.  If these things go well, then the benefits are obvious.

But do they always go well?

Certainly, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines got mixed reviews based on a documentary series, filmed aboard their popular Balmoral. That particular programme attracted a lot of negative feedback, although, once again, the company’s bookings are said to have profited quite a lot. And if money is the bottom line rather than perception, I guess Fred still came out way ahead.

These programmes are far more ‘fly on the wall’  than the smooth, mushy goo served up by the Love Boat week in and out. And, even back in the early eighties, the legendary Alan Whicker made a series of documentaries aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 during her first, post Falklands world cruise.

But long before even that extraordinary odyssey, ships on the telly were nothing new. And, of course, one particular ship more than any other……

It was almost inevitable that the Titanic would steam across the screenscape of Upstairs, Downstairs, just as she would also sail across the backdrop of it’s logical successor in the Edwardian melodrama sweepstakes, Downton Abbey. In fact, the lost liner appeared with such regularity as a celluloid backdrop on TV that well known TV presenter, Barry Norman, famously quipped that the Titanic had ‘sailed more miles on film than she ever did in real life’.

Ironically, the constant dragging up for air of the most famous shipwreck in history seems to have had a perversely beneficial effect on cruising, and on passengers embarking on the transatlantic crossing as well. With the retelling of  such a spectacular disaster promoting such a spike in ratings, the irony is obvious.

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

QE2 was already a reality television star in the early righties

And here we come to the always perennial disconnect between television and cruise line expectations. Each has their own agenda in filming these things. For good TV is not about anything so much as maximising ratings. And, in pursuit of that, if corners get cut or stories/people are misrepresented, well that’s just collateral damage.

And, of course, the ship owners want to display their product and image in hopefully the most flattering light. Which is not always the most accurate picture, either.

So, as Royal Princess prepares to tread the boards, let us all wish her well. But please, let’s take it all with at least a small pinch of salt.

FOOTSTEPS OF THE PAST- TRAVEL PICTURES FROM THE TWA ARCHIVES

Quayside market produce, Helsinki, Finland

Quayside market produce, Helsinki, Finland

The keep of famous Durham Castle, Great Britain

The keep of famous Durham Castle, Great Britain

Guggenheim museum, Bilbao, Northern Spain

Guggenheim museum, Bilbao, Northern Spain
Villefranche, Cote D'Azur

Villefranche, Cote D’Azur

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal

The beauty of Nice

The beauty of Nice

Fortifications at Saint-Malo, France

Fortifications at Saint-Malo, France

Streets of Cartagena, Spain

Streets of Cartagena, Spain

Morocco beach life

Morocco beach life

Side streets of St. George's, Bermuda

Side streets of St. George’s, Bermuda

Balboa Park, San Diego

Balboa Park, San Diego

Midnight sun, Baltic sea

Midnight sun, Baltic sea

Gothic glories of Antwerp

Gothic glories of Antwerp

Old Rouen, Normandy

Old Rouen, Normandy

Ibiza Town

Ibiza Town