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.


Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

In a move officially announced today, Cruise And Maritime Voyages has announced the acquisition of the German operator, Transocean.

This gives the hitherto UK focused company an inroad into the potentially lucrative German market. As it stands, Transoceam has interests in both river and ocean cruising.

The beginnings of an understanding were reached last winter, when Cruise And Maritime chartered the 21,000 ton MS Astor from Transocean for an initial season of Australia and Pacific sailings, mainly from Fremantle. That arrangement had already been reconfirmed for winter 2014-15, prior to today’s announcement.

With immediate effect, this means that Cruise And Maritime will now assume marketing and promoting the 2014 programme of Astor cruises in Europe this year. In all, the well regarded ship, recently refurbished, will be offering some fourteen cruises between May and October, mainly sailing from Hamburg and Kiel, before she returns to Australia in November.

It also gives Cruise And Maritime a quartet of river vessels; Belvedere, with 176 passengers, the 150 passenger Bellefleur, Bellejour, with 180 passengers, and the smaller, 80 passenger  Sans Souci. 

Between them, this quartet operates across the Rhone, the Moselle, Danube, Main, Rhine, Neckar and Elbe, Oder, and Saone river networks.

The four German river boats, as well as the ocean going Astor, will continue to be advertised to the lucrative German market, though with some increasing international representation. Recently, Cruise And Maritime has opened offices in both Fort Lauderdale and Sydney.

The company also recently dipped a toe into the UK river cruise market, with the acquisition of the premium grade Vienna 1 for cruises on the Rhine. As with many products in the increasingly lucrative river cruising market, Cruise And Maritime fares include flights, transfers, all excursions, and on board wine or beer with dinner each evening.

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon....

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon….

On the deep ocean cruising front, Cruise And Maritime operates a brace of highly respected ‘ladies of a certain age’, in the shape of the veteran Marco Polo and the highly popular MV Discovery. Despite their lack of balconies and alternative restaurants, the two ships continue to book briskly, and have proved popular additions to the UK cruising roster.

This for now probably marks the limit of Cruise And Maritime’s expansion in terms of ocean cruising. There simply are not too many candidates about that fit the line’s preferred style of classic, ocean liner style voyaging on the market these days.

However, the river cruise market could be another matter altogether. And, no doubt, the line is looking at the possibility of some cross over trade between the ocean and river components. It makes for a whole raft of intriguing possibilities.

As always, stay tuned.


The classical, on board styling of Portuscale's Lisboa has few modern equivalents

The classical, on board styling of Portuscale’s Lisboa has few modern equivalents

Last week delivered a trio of heavy shocks for lovers of the traditional, smaller cruise ships. First came the sad news that the pioneering Song Of Norway, the start up ship for Royal Caribbean, had been sold for scrap. More than anything, this brought home the shaky mortality and status of that maritime ‘Brady Bunch’ of older vessels.

There followed the indescribably painful sight of the Pacific Princess, famed as the original Love Boat, hauled up to be butchered at a Turkish slaughterhouse. Listing painfully, shabby and dilapidated, the once graceful ship has been reduced to a sad, squalid shadow of her former glory.

Then, only yesterday, the beloved Ocean Countess caught fire in the Greek port of Chalkis as she was being readied for a new charter season next year. The fire, now extinguished, seems to have centered on her midships pool and forward observation lounge. No impartial assessment of the resultant damage has yet been put in the public arena, but it hardly helps the prospects of the 37 year old former Cunard stalwart.

Even worse, 2014 will see the withdrawal from service of the Saga Ruby, the former 1973 built Vistafjord. This legendary ship, the last passenger ship to be built in the UK, is facing a very uncertain fate, and optimism regarding her future employment- if any- is very thin on the ground.

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

All of these point up a simple, salient fact for anyone wanting the chance to sail in one or more of this dwindling band of thoroughbreds; get out there and do it, while you still can. The clock is ticking, and options are really running out now.

With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the classically styled ships still sailing out there. I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible, and apologies in advance for any unintentional omissions.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines still operate the classic duo of Boudicca and Black Watch, a pair of 1972 beauties originally built for the Royal Viking Line.

Competitor Cruise And Maritime offers cruises on the Discovery, the former Island Princess (and sister ship of the Pacific Princess) as well as the 1965 built Marco Polo.

All four of these ships can be embarked from a series of different ports around the UK. Looking further afield increases your options a lot. Here’s a few more options for your consideration.

Louis Cruises will sail the Louis Rhea, the former 1971 built Cunard Adventurer, out of Piraeus this summer. She will be running with her former Norwegian Cruise Lines fleetmate, the 1968 built Louis Aura, best remembered as the famous, fondly remembered Starward.

From Israel, the Golden Iris operates cruises for Mano Maritime. She is the former Cunard Princess and, by an ironic coincidence, she is currently laid up for the winter alongside her former sister, the fire ravaged Ocean Countess, in the Greek port of Chalkis.

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Most potent of all, the Lazarus- like resurrection of Portuscale Cruises in Lisbon has put a quartet of platinum chip, beautifully styled former ocean liners back on the market. Azores, Funchal. Lisboa and Porto will all be sailing full schedules over the 2014 season and, while some of these will be on European charters, there are options to board the exquisite Funchal in the UK over the summer. Many of those cruises are being marketed by Travelscope Holidays in the UK.

The future prospects of all of these ships are, of course, directly related to their profitability as going concerns. That being so, 2014 might well be a good time for true lovers of the ocean liners of the past to turn those fond, romantic dream voyages into a more practical, eminently rewarding reality.


Cruise and Maritime can show you the beauty of Ibiza

Cruise and Maritime can show you the beauty of Ibiza

Cruise and Maritime is a relative newcomer to the UK cruising scene, but in a few short years it has managed to acquire a trio of smaller, extremely comfortable ‘ladies of the sea’ of a certain vintage, Marketed successfully to a clientele that is naturally averse to the current generation of glittering, Vegas- style mega ships, it also offers a summertime series of sailing from different home ports around the country. As with their rival, Fred. Olsen, this has proved to be a winning formula.

There is a lot of flexibility in the company schedules, from overnight repositioning cruises to gargantuan, thirty two night round trip cruises to the Caribbean and back. And, with this winter season’s charter of the small, beautifully styled Astor, Cruise and Maritime now offers the welcome option to sail to and from Australia and South Africa over the winter months; a real boon for those averse to airports and flying in general.

The company’s trio of swells consists of the aforementioned Astor, a stylish lady of 21,000 tons with a graceful, swept back funnel and some gorgeous tiered decks at the stern. Discovery is the former Island Princess, also around 20,000 tons. With light, airy interiors and a sliding glass roof over her central lido pool, she is ideal for cruises in northern waters in the long summer nights.

Perhaps best known is the Marco Polo, a wonderful, typically styled liner, suffused in bow to stern art deco, and blessed with a wonderful series of cascading, upper deck terraces at the stern. A similar size to her fleetmates, her capacity of around 800 passengers is also on a par with the other two ships. And, like them, she offers a uniformity of product across the board.

Visit Honfleur on a Cruise and Maritime city break

Visit Honfleur on a Cruise and Maritime city break

Common to all three of the Cruise and Maritime ships is a warm, intimate atmosphere, and food, service and entertainment geared towards a predominantly older, UK market. There are very few balcony cabins on any of the ships, and extra tariff restaurants are a complete no-no here.

What you do get is a good value, solid product that will take you to some fascinating places, at a genuinely good price point. The exception is the single cabins, which are typically twice the rate of a double, and something the company needs to address in light of aggressive discounting by rivals.

Both Discovery and Marco Polo shift bases around the country during the summer, sailing from ports such as Bristol, Edinburgh, Harwich and Newcastle, as well as the main, year round base of Tilbury. The Essex port has a dedicated coach connection from London Victoria for all sailings, and is also easily reached  by rail from anywhere in the UK via London’s Fenchurch Street station.

Cruise and Maritime is a real alternative to the mega ships of Cunard and P&O. The ships are charming and evocative, well run, and offer a whole raft of optional itineraries. You can even spend the evening on board Marco Polo pierside in Tilbury, and enjoy drinks, dinner and a floorshow on board. This is a great way to get the ‘feel’ of the ship without going overboard on the finances.

Shell Beach, Saint Barts. Go there with Cruise and Maritime's winter escape

Shell Beach, Saint Barts. Go there with Cruise and Maritime’s winter escape

I particularly recommend some of the short, two to five day short cruises offered by Marco Polo, many of which are ideal for visiting some of Northern Europe’s more appealing Christmas markets, such as Antwerp and Ghent. These are also ideal pick me ups, and they also offer the opportunity to see and discover some new and very attractive cities at a good price point. Add in the attractions of a secure, largely all inclusive environment, and the value becomes obvious.

Best of all, there’s also no worries on the amount of personal luggage you can bring back with you, so you can shop to your heart’s- and your wallet’s- content. Enjoy.