LITTLE ROYALS- SHORT EUROPEAN BREAKS ON CUNARD IN 2016

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QM2 is sailing full speed ahead for some substantial enhancements in 2016

Interested in trying the classic Cunard on board experience for yourself, but unwilling to make a first time commitment to a long, potentially expensive voyage?

Or maybe you’re already a die hard fan, short on time, but looking for a tasty little top up of that famous on board ambiance?

Both of these can be realised on a short, two to five night break on one of the storied ‘Three Queens’ in Europe next year.

Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will offer a whole raft of trips between them. Starting in January, you can visit prime European short haul ports such as Zeebrugge, Amsterdam, Guernsey and Hamburg, while still lapping up the on board vibe.

To coincide with some of her Atlantic crossings that embark in Hamburg, there are options to sail on the Queen Mary 2 from Southampton to Hamburg, or indeed vice versa. These jaunts give you two full days on the Cunard flagship-fresh from a substantial refurbishment and upgrade in the late spring of 2016.

In July, Queen Mary 2 also offers a special, four night round trip cruise from Southampton. Smaller sibling, Queen Elizabeth, offers a similar itinerary in May.

The voyages, running through until December, offer a cost effective way to experience life on board one of the famous famous trio of ships at sea, plus the chance to step ashore and enjoy the lifestyle in some of Europe’s more invigorating ports.

Worth a look for sure.

QUEEN MARY 2 SUFFERS SMALL FIRE IN GAS TURBINE

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Queen Mary 2 Mid Atlantic funnel shot

The Queen Mary 2 has suffered a small fire in one of her gas turbines today while docked in the port of Lisbon.

The fire is under control and the damage- described as minor- is currently under assessment. Right now, the liner is still scheduled to sail on time for her next port of call- the Spanish port of Vigo- later tonight.

However, one of the pods is not coming on line right at this moment.

The Queen Mary 2 is currently in the last stage of a twelve night, round trip cruise from Southampton to the Canary Islands and Portugal, that sailed from Southampton on December 3rd. The ship is due back in the Hampshire port after her Vigo call on December 15th. Later that same day, she is scheduled to sail on her final, westbound crossing of the year to New York.

Stay tuned for news.

My grateful thanks go to Ron Acosta for this on the spot update.

QUEEN MARY 2 SAILS ON 250TH ATLANTIC CROSSING TODAY

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The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

The Queen Mary 2 will embark passengers today for an historic Atlantic crossing- her 250th such voyage since she first entered service in January of 2004.

The great liner will sail from the Red Hook terminal in Brooklyn, New York, on an eight day eastbound transatlantic crossing this afternoon.

Following her arrival in Southampton on December 3rd, the Queen Mary 2 will conclude her 2015 season with three additional sailings; a twelve night round trip cruise to the Canary Islands will be followed by a return, seven night crossing to New York departing on December 15th.

Following her scheduled arrival back in New York on the 22nd December, the Queen Mary 2 will sail her customary, round trip Christmas and New Year’s cruise to the Caribbean, before embarking once more for Europe on January 3rd, 2016.

Next summer, the Queen Mary 2 will embark upon the most complete and comprehensive refit since her aforementioned debut. Carried through by the SMC Design company, the work will see the installation of some forty five new cabins; thirty new Britannia Club balcony cabins, and a long overdue, dedicated fifteen single cabins.

Also of note is the transformation of the current Winter Garden into a new venture called the Carinthia Lounge. Located on Deck 7, the redesigned venue will hosts breakfasts and light lunches, as well as champagne afternoon teas, and evening entertainment.

Elsewhere, the interior of the liner will be refreshed to give her more of a classic Art Deco feel, a process should help to emphasise her North Atlantic heritage.

The refit is slated to be carried through in Hamburg over the period from May 27th to June 21st 2016, inclusive. Queen Mary 2 will then resume service with a ten night, scheduled transatlantic crossing from Hamburg and Southampton to New York.

The extent of the refit makes this the most eagerly anticipated refurbishment of the 2016 cruising season so far announced. No doubt it will also prove to be the most extensively scrutinised one as well.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

 

QE2- HAS THE TIDE TURNED?

Twilight Of The Goddesses- the magnificence that is QE2

Twilight Of The Goddesses- the magnificence that is QE2

After months of silence from Dubai, words of sort finally emerge on the future of the QE2.

Those in charge at DP have been moved to say on record that the great lady will ‘not be scrapped’ and that a ‘new plan’ is extant for her future.

Of course, we have heard words from these people before. Over time, a conga line of preposterous pronouncements, followed by awkward silences, came and went to such an extent that, in the end, people (myself among them) lost all faith in anything that these gentlemen either said or did. Talk, after all, is the cheapest thing on tap in Dubai.

But, this time, actions came before words. And there lies perhaps the crucial difference.

After years of being allowed to gradually gather dirt beneath that pitiless sun, QE2 was gradually cleaned the other week. on the exterior from bow to stern. This was done quietly, and without any fuss. There was no immediate word from Dubai as to the reason for this much needed TLC. No, I don’t know what prompted the change of heart, either, though I do of course welcome it. It was almost as if the old girl flashed us a wry smile after years of grimacing in quiet, dignified agony.

What I do know is that any potential scrappers would not care if the ship appeared unkempt or not. Rust streaked, unsightly steel is no less valuable than the pristine equivalent. This gives me the first, vague hope that the great lady is not being smartened up simply for a final stroll to the scaffold. More seems to be going on here.

After the PR disasters of the supposed initial refit, then the bruited stint in South Africa, and finally the intended voyage to the Far East, I am still more than a little wary of any pronouncements on the future of QE2. Once again, talk is cheap.

‘A new plan’ is, of course, about as vague and unspecific an announcement as can be made. Thinner in substance than a snow carpet in Satan’s living room, it hints, but does not deliver anything of substance. And, until we see flesh on bones, none of us that treasure QE2 will wholly believe it.

But that was then, and this is now.

Don’t get me wrong; we are entitled to be cynical, and lacking in either faith or trust in light of the past. But- against my better judgement and all logic- I cannot help but feel the first, faint stirrings of hope for the ship since November of 2008.

QE2 is a big, feisty lady, and getting her moving- either actually or in another sense- will be a long, ponderous job. And, as ever, it will all come down to mindset. The current mindset in Dubai remains an unknown, inscrutable thing.

But some of us can sense the first, tentative tremors of life beginning to run through her again, something like a flower that slowly opens and blooms after a long, suffocating winter, Any recovery will be slow, stubborn, controversial and, of course, never to everyone’s liking.

There may very well be tears, stubbornness, miscommunication and sheer intransigence to come in the months ahead. But, like the Queen that she has always been, QE2 herself will continue to rise serenely above it all.

I, for one. owe her nothing less than the same courtesy. So, Dubai- it’s over to you. Work with us to help restore, preserve and promote the lady. I’m game if you are.

The ball is firmly in your court.

WHY DID WHITE STAR GIVE UP ON THE BLUE RIBAND?

Olympic (left) and Titanic at Belfast in the spring of 1912. The Titanic is very near completion here.

Olympic (left) and Titanic at Belfast in the spring of 1912. The Titanic is very near completion here.

When the White Star Line introduced it’s brand new Oceanic in 1899, the company broke the mould of traditional Atlantic voyaging in one spectacular respect.

It was not so much in terms of size- the Oceanic represented natural evolution rather than a seismic advance. It was not even in terms of her beautiful, elegant interiors that the new ship really made a splash.

With Oceanic, White Star instead went against the single prime tenet that had governed Atlantic steamships for decades. For here was a ship that, almost uniquely, was designed to steam at a slightly more economical speed than her British and German rivals.

The unspoken rule had always been that liners should be ever swifter, with the in built possibility of making record speed crossings. But with Oceanic, White Star formally opted out of the speed race, never to return.

Why?

Firstly, fuel was very expensive. Each additional knot over the first twenty attained cost as much as that original twenty. And the potential wear and tear on hulls pushed at flank speed could be considerable.

Instead, White Star chose to concentrate on building larger, more economical ships that would emphasize comfort and luxury over bone shattering speed. And it was a policy that worked admirably right up to the outbreak of the Great War.

And I think that it is worth remembering that this comfort-before-speed policy was enshrined in the White Star playbook before the formal takeover of the line by J.P.Morgan’s IMM. And the fact that Morgan allowed this mindset to stand shows that he was in agreement with that direction of travel.

I think by that stage that White Star was not so much keeping an eye on it’s age old rival, Cunard, as watching developments across the channel, in Germany.

Here- just like in Britain- two great shipping lines fought tooth and nail for the lion’s share of the travelling trade.

North German Lloyd dominated the turn of the century era, with a quartet of long, lean four funneled racers. Each in succession took the Blue Ribband (except for the Kronprinzessen Cecile) on their Atlantic debuts.

Their main German rival, Hamburg Amerika Line, replied with a speed record champion of their own, in the shape of the very similar Deutschland.

That ship almost shook herself to pieces in her ambitious grab for the crown. And she proved to be a profligate, hideously expensive fuel guzzler right throughout her career.

In Germany, company chairman Albert Ballinn looked at the new White Star liner Oceanic, and decided that the British company was on to something. He, too, decided to go down the ‘comfort is more, speed is less’ route.

Their first toe in the water came in the stunning form of the Amerika of 1905, a ship so opulent and luxurious that she immediately became the most successful ship on the Atlantic. Slower but steady, and complete with marvellous cabins and a hugely popular, separate a la carte restaurant in first class, the Amerika drew passengers in droves. In many ways, she was just as epochal a ship as the Oceanic, if subsequently a much less well remembered one.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star, found himself confronted with the imminent, looming reality of a pair of record breaking new vessels from the rival Cunard Line. Lusitania and Mauretania would be half as large again as any other ships afloat and, inevitably, they would be far faster, too. These two liners would reduce the time on the Liverpool to New York run by several hours.

But Ismay’s eyes were not just on Cunard; they were also on the continent of Europe. And, even as Cunard contemplated it’s new pair of crown jewels, the White Star chairman acted.

In 1907, White Star took the unprecedented strep of transferring it’s first run transatlantic liners- the so-called ‘Big Four’- from Liverpool round to Southampton.

The Hampshire port had a far superior harbour to the Mersey in many ways, but it was convenient access to continental ports that was the key factor behind Ismay’s decision.

In a chilling echo of current times, Europe was awash with a human tidal wave of people on the move; streams of refugees fleeing war, poverty, and prejudice trekked the length of the continent to board transatlantic liners, hoping to find a new life in the promised land of Canada and, more especially, the USA.

This trade was so vast that tapping into it made simple, logical sense. From Southampton, a White Star liner could reach Cherbourg in six hours to embark passengers from the continent. Steaming overnight along the English Channel, that same liner could arrive in Queenstown to pick up Irish emigrants- just as their Cunard rivals did- before beginning the westbound crossing proper to the new world.

Thus, White Star ships could fill up their empty cabins at two ports rather than just one, as well as picking up passengers almost directly from London via the better rail links that existed to the Hampshire port. Once achieved, their ships could then steam westward at a more stately, fuel conservative speed that made them slower, yet more comfortable, than their Cunard rivals.

And, in planning it’s response to the Cunard wonder ships, White Star refused to be pushed back into an arms race in terms of speed. Instead, they opted for a pair of colossal ocean liners, later to be followed by a third. Each would be half as big again as the new Cunarders. From the start, these giants were intended to be ‘Southampton ships’ and, as a result, massive infrastructure upgrades were initiated across that port. Upgrades that Cunard, ironically, would benefit from significantly after the Great War.

While the design of the new ships was in theory a response to Cunard, White Star still kept it’s other eye locked on the progress of Hamburg Amerika and it’s chairman, the savvy, fastidious Albert Ballinn. It was, incidentally, a compliment that Ballinn himself duly reciprocated.

These new White Star ships would offer stunning, expansive luxury and largesse in first class, while also offering a wealth of cheap, utilitarian but extremely practical accommodation for the desperate hordes of migrants flooding into European ports. While they were intended to take a full day longer to cross the Atlantic than the speedy Cunarders- six days as opposed to five- they would be jam packed with a wealth of time killing amusements and diversions for the wealthy, moneyed travelling elite.

Of course, those two ships were the Olympic and the Titanic. But, as this article hopefully attests, their eventual genesis owed as much to the opulent German vessels of Ballinn as to their fabled Cunard rivals.

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….

DOG-GONE! QM2 RAMPS UP THE ON BOARD ACCOMMODATION FOR 2016

Some details of next years’ long anticipated refit of Queen Mary 2 have begun to surface.

The 25 day refit will take place at the Blohm and Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, and will begin on May 27th. The ship is scheduled to leave the dock on June 21st.

No less than thirty balcony staterooms for Britannia Club passengers will be added to the ship. To accommodate an extra sixty potential diners, the area currently occupied on board by the Britannia Club annexe will be extended.

Significantly, the ship will also gain some fifteen new, dedicated cabins for singles, thus bringing her into line with smaller fleet mates, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

And, just to prove that it’s not really a dog’s life on the Queen Mary 2, the ships’ kennel complex will benefit from both a new water hydrant and a lamp post. And, in response to demand, an additional ten kennels will be installed in the ships’ aft placed, upper deck dog compound, bringing the total available to twenty two in all.

The company is also getting ready to announce further enhancements in the future. One of these will almost certainly include a massive change to the centrally sited Kings’ Court buffet area, a perennial cause of customer complaint.

More details will be posted here as they are made public.

As ever, stay tuned.

QM2 is sailing full speed ahead for some substantial enhancements in 2016

QM2 is sailing full speed ahead for some substantial enhancements in 2016

QUEEN MARY 2 TO CELEBRATE 250TH TRANSATLANTIC CROSSING IN NOVEMBER

The Queen Mary 2 will celebrate yet another historic milestone this year when she sails on what will be her 250th crossing of the Atlantic in November.

The giant Cunarder- the largest ocean liner ever built- will sail from New York on November 25th on an eight night, eastbound voyage, scheduled to arrive in Southampton on December 3rd.

Fares for an inside stateroom start at £999.

It’s been something of a banner headline year for Cunard.Tthe company celebrated it’s 175th anniversary this year and, on a more sombre note, there was a pretty emotional voyage of remembrance to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania off the south coast of Ireland in May.

Having just completed her first, full decade of service, the Queen Mary 2 is also slated for a major refit, which will see the replacement of the mid ship, centrally located Kings’ Court buffet area among other things. The Kings’ Court has been a bone of contention for many QM2 regulars ever since the ship made her debut, back in 2004.

While it is heart warming to see the great liner passing yet another service milestone, I can’t help but point out that the original Queen Mary – half the size of the current one- used to make the same Atlantic crossing in half as many days.

Still, this really is a cause for celebration, and no doubt the event will be marked on board in suitable style. It should be quite a memorable crossing.

The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

The great QM2 will embark on her 250th Atlantic crossing in November this year

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.

SOME CRUISE NEWS AND VIEWS FROM THE WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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