MAGELLAN TO NORWAY- AN OVERVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

BYE BYE IBEROCRUISES- SPANISH LINE TO BE ‘INTEGRATED’ INTO COSTA (UPDATED)

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

Iberocruises; set to disappear over the cruising horizon at the end of this year

As previously rumoured on this blog, it has now been confirmed that Iberocruises, the Spanish cruise subsidiary of Costa Cruises, will be fully integrated into the Italian Carnival affiliate as of next year.

The Spanish cruise operation- once so buoyant- has been on borrowed time since the local cruise market went bows down in the wake of massive austerity cuts inflicted across the entire Iberian peninsula. The first signs of enforced retrenchment came when the company’s most prestigious ship- Grand Mistral– was hived off to Costa and refashioned as the Costa NeoRiviera.

Then, early last year, the Spanish offices of both cruise products were brought together for the local market.

Next, a recently completed, 4.5 million euro refit of the Grand Celebration was followed with the announcement that she, too, would transfer over to Costa this winter, after completing one last season under the Iberocruises banner. She will be restyled as the Costa Celebration, although no new deployments have been announced for the ship at present.

That left just the Grand Holiday- sister ship of Grand Celebration- as the last remaining vessel sailing for the Spanish operator. It was pretty apparent to most that a one ship line was not long for this world.

Costa CEO, Michael Thamm, apparently announced last month that Iberocruises would be taken off life support, and integrated fully into Costa. I, for one, completely missed this. A spokesman for the Italian juggernaut- itself due to launch a new, largest ever flagship in the shape of the Costa Diadema this November- has since said that ‘a plan’ exists for the future of the Grand Holiday.

Whether that ‘plan’ is as part of the Costa brand remains to be seen.

On the face of it, the two sister ships- both built for Carnival in the mid eighties- seem an odd fit in the Costa fleet. True, they are compatible in terms of size with the handful of smaller Costa ships, but they lack the balconies and extra dining facilities of even those.

It also has to be said that they do not look so good against the vessels of prime rival, MSC Cruises. That line is about to embark on a lengthening and enhancement programme of all four of its smallest ships, designed to significantly enhance their appeal in terms of both accommodation and amenities. And it must be borne in mind that all four of those ships are considerably younger than the two Iberocruises refugees being offloaded onto Costa.

The obvious solution would be to absorb the two ships- along with the Costa Classica- into the NeoCollection offshoot that already boasts both Costa NeoRomantica and Costa NeoRiviera. This product is an attempt to get back to something of the original Costa roots, by providing smaller, more intimate ships that offer an experience built around longer port visits, more in depth itineraries, and excellent local and regional cuisine.

So far, so good. But the question here is whether that still fledgling operation would absorb this three tiered influx profitably in the present, still depressed climate. It seems unlikely at the present time.

In any event, it’s goodbye to Iberocruises at the end of this year. Here’s hoping that the plan Costa has for those last two ships is, indeed, a viable one. No one wants to see more eighties tonnage on the beaches of Alang or Aliaga.

As always, stay tuned.

 

UPDATE: Carnival’s Arnold Donald has announced today that the Grand Holiday will leave the Carnival fleet entirely at the end of the year. No buyer has been announced for the 1985 built ship as yet.

 

IS THIS THE END OF IBEROCRUISES?

Could Iberocruises follow Quail Cruises into history?

Could Iberocruises follow Quail Cruises into history?

Rumours are circulating that hint at the possible demise of Iberocruises, the Spanish subsidiary of Carnival Corporation.

What was a three ship company this time last year is now due to downsize to just one- Grand Holiday- by the end of this year. The Spanish affiliate of Carnival Corporation has reportedly been hit hard by the continuing recession in southern Europe. Many now think that the one ship line will be wound up by the end of the year.

The first signs of fragmentation came at the end of last year, when Grand Mistral, the biggest and most amenity laden ship of the Iberocruises trio, was transferred over to it’s Italian sister company, Costa Cruises. Newly re wrought as the Costa NeoRiviera, the ship has now been assigned as one of two vessels offering the company’s NeoCollection, a series of longer, more intimate voyages on smaller ships, intended to showcase the culture and cuisine of the regions that they sail through.

And that left two. But not for long.

In a surprise move, Costa will also acquire the 47,000 ton Grand Celebration at the end of the year. Fresh from a seventeen day, 4.5 million euro refit in Genoa, the ship will operate her scheduled series of seven night, Adriatic sailings this summer, before going over to Costa- under the name of Costa Celebration- this winter.

And then there was one.

That ‘one’ being the sister ship of Grand Celebration, currently sailing as the Grand Holiday.

Originally built in 1985 for Carnival Cruises as the Holiday, the 45,000 ton vessel was the first real Carnival super liner. For many years, she was a hugely successful staple on the seven day Caribbean cruise circuit, out of Miami.

In line with usual Carnival policy, the Holiday was rotated out of the fleet as bigger, more amenity laden tonnage became available. She soon became one of the principal vessels in the fledgling Spanish satellite operation, sailing mainly in the Mediterranean.

Now the pioneering ship remains the last official member of the Iberocruises fleet. One ship operations tend not to last very long.

What then? Of course, the Grand Holiday could follow her sister ship, into the Costa fold. But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

If Iberocruises does indeed cease operation, it will follow another, smaller Spanish market operator- Quail Cruises- which was killed off by lack of demand in the local market. And, inevitably, it turns the focus on the biggest Spanish operator, the Royal Caribbean International chaperoned offshoot, Pullmantur.

As always, stay tuned.

CRUISE SHIPS TO SOCHI WINTER OLYMPICS 2014

Silver Whisper was used to host Vladimir Putin at the 2003 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg

Silver Whisper was used to host Vladimir Putin at the 2003 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg

One of the last publicised aspects regarding the hugely controversial 22nd Winter Olympics, due to be held in and around the Black Sea  city of Sochi between 7th and 23rd of February next year, is the surprising number of cruise ships and ferries that have been chartered for use as static hotel accommodation.

Of course, there is nothing new in the use of chartered cruise ships as temporary static accommodation. Events such as the Olympic Games of 1992 and 2004 saw the use as accommodation ships of some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament- including the then brand new Queen Mary 2. Similarly, the Barcelona Expo ’98 had no less than six cruise ships, including the then world’s longest liner, the SS. Norway, offering accommodation.

Last year’s London 2012 Olympics saw the use of Fred. Olsen’s Braemar and her original sister ship, the now laid up Gemini, as fully functioning, static hotels docked on the River Thames at Tilbury.

What is, of course, different about Sochi 2014 is the hugely controversial nature of these games, with widespread calls for a boycott over Russian president Vladimir Putin’s excessive, increasingly repressive crackdown on gay rights in Russia as a whole.

So, who is going to be there for the duration? Five cruise and ferry operators have thus far confirmed their operation of chartered tonnage.

First off, Russian owned St. Peter Line is sending both of it’s large cruise ferries- Princess Anastasia and Princess Maria- from their regular, year round overnight runs from Tallinn and Stockholm to St. Petersburg. The Princess Anastasia was once well known in the UK as the popular Pride Of Bilbao, a stalwart of the Northern Spain run for many years. Rooms on these two ships are advertised from 63 euros upwards per night.

There is also another ferry, the Italian SNAV Toscana, a 30,000 ton vessel usually operated on overnight runs between Civitavecchia and Palermo, Originally built as the Wasa Star back in 1981, she has accommodation for around 2200 people in normal service.

Seasonal Greek islands operator, Louis Cruises, is sending two ships, the aptly named 38, 000 ton Louis Olympia and the 33,000 ton Thomson Spirit; sensible and gainful employment for two ships that would have otherwise remained laid up in Piraeus until March. Unlike the two ferries mentioned above, these two vessels are full service cruise ships. Rooms priced from 168 euros per night.

Spanish operator, Iberocruises is sending the 46,000 ton Grand Holiday, which originally started life in 1985 as a Carnival ship. Rooms on board this ship start from 158 euros.

Largest of all, Norwegian Cruise Line is sending the 92,000 ton Norwegian Jade, with rooms on board starting at the highest rate of all, at at 208 euros per night. Unlike most of the others, the Norwegian Jade offers the added plus of a large number of balcony cabins.

Between them, these six very different ships can offer in excess of some twelve thousand berths. While the cruise ships of Louis, Norwegian and Iberocruises are usually in the Mediterranean for the spring season anyway, the long voyage to and from the Baltic by the two Russian ferries represents a significant redeployment on the part of their owners, albeit an obviously lucrative one.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? SHIPS YOU LOVED, AND THOUGHT YOU HAD LOST……

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

There are quite literally millions of people who love to travel on the big, fun filled floating theme parks of today. More, in fact, than at any other time in history. And that figure is still rocketing skywards; fuelled by cheap fares, excellent value, and the arrival of a continuous conga line of new builds, each one seemingly laden with more time killing (and money costing) on board diversions than ever before.

But if your cruise history goes back a decade or two (or, whisper it, even three), then the ships you first cruised on will have been very different in style, concept, and probably size. The new blood of today is descended from a long line of much smaller ships, many of them fondly remembered for their big personalities and fun, on board vibe. As new ships came on line, these smaller, less gimmick suffused little gems seemed to vanish like Atlantic fog.

Ah, but did they?

You would be pleasantly surprised- and in some cases, no doubt, delighted- to learn how many of ‘those you have loved ‘ vessels are still sailing for other operators. In some cases, they are into their third or fourth lives. And, amazingly, they are still giving pleasure to an entire new generation of new passengers. PSo, put on your deck shoes, put down your pina colada (for now), and let’s take a little walk down memory lane….

Remember Carnival’s first string run of mega ships from the mid eighties; Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration? Well, all three are still very much out there. The former Jubilee is now sailing in the Chinese domestic market, under the name of Henna. The Holiday and Celebration have been reunited at Iberocruises, the Spanish speaking offshoot of Carnival. Little changed, they sail these days as the Grand Holiday and Grand Celebration respectively.

Royal Caribbean had some of the most famous ships of all in the late eighties and early nineties; if you remember the sprightly little Nordic Empress, you’ll find that she’s still sailing for Spanish all inclusive operator. Pullmantur, under the name of Empress. Also with Pullmantur are the former Sovereign of the Seas, now called Sovereign, and the Monarch of the Seas, now styled simply as Monarch.

The company also used to run the squat, stubby little Viking Serenade out of Los Angeles on short trips out to Ensenada, Mexico. She, too, lives on, as the all inclusive Island Escape, and she’s now with Thomson Cruises.

Celebrity Cruises was the true wonder kid on the block in the early nineties, with a pair of stylish, 45,000 ton sisters- Horizon and Zenith- that became bywords for culinary excellence and sheer, outstanding style. For over a decade, these lovely twin sisters were the brightest stars on the summertime New York to Bermuda run.

After being apart for several years, the two sisters, still bearing their original names- have now been reunited under the Croisieres De France banner, a French operation that has them operating summer Mediterranean cruises, and winter voyages in the Caribbean.

Still missing some ships? There will be an update to this piece. Maybe even two.

Stay tuned…

2014- AND THE CRUISE BARGAINS KEEP ON COMING…..

A Spanish 'carnival' in the Med, anyone?

A Spanish ‘carnival’ in the Med, anyone?

It’s not so very long ago that the Mirror’s Captain Greybeard pointed up some amazing cruise prices in his online blog. Despite less big ships returning to the sunny climes of the Med next year, it seems that cruise lines are still engaged in a desperate scramble to get their hands on your money. And it’s no longer just the English and American lines, either.

This year, Spanish all inclusive cruise and tour operator, Pullmantur, introduced its first ever, dedicated brochure for UK passengers. Using a mixed bag of tonnage acquired from its parent company, Royal Caribbean, it looks to be making a determined and sustained push for a piece of the UK cruise market.

This has triggered a slightly more muted response from its Spanish rival, the Carnival owned and financed Iberocruises.

While there’s (yet) no sign of a UK brochure, the company is now selling its product through specialist operators such as Ponders Travel and Cruise Nation. The ships in the Iberocruises fleet are largely ex- Carnival tonnage, ships of around 45,000 tons. It has also appointed a general sales agent in the UK-Vamos Holidays– to co-ordinate its activities in the UK and Ireland.

The two ships sailing for the company- Grand Holiday and Grand Celebration- were originally two of the first mega ships built for Carnival, and first entered service in 1985 and 1986, respectively. And, while it’s not an all inclusive product like Pullmantur is, some of the fares currently on offer almost beggar belief for sheer good value.

For example, Cruise Nation (www.cruisenation.com) is offering an eight night fly cruise package, consisting of return flights (based on London) to Barcelona, a two night city stay, and a six night cruise on Grand Holiday, calling at Marseille, Savona, Ajaccio and Palma, from only £279 per person. This is based on a departure date of March 2nd, 2014.

And two extra nights in beautiful Barcelona are included...

And two extra nights in beautiful Barcelona are included…

The website says it will arrange other airports on request, but no doubt at a supplement.

Interested? Who wouldn’t be. But- do be aware that the hotel stay is post cruise, and no mention is made about including transfers. However, this is easy enough to do in Barcelona. You also need to be aware that there is a ten euro per day service charge to add to the cost of this one, per person.

Even for a single passenger, assuming a 50 per cent single supplement still gives you an eight night fly cruise package for just over £400. That’s astonishing value.

Naturally enough, these fares are based on lead in, inside cabins. But even these come in at around 185 square feet- hardly claustrophobic. Facilities on board the Grand Holiday include three restaurants (one of them a buffet) six bars including outdoor and indoor choices, two pools, three hot tubs, a health centre, casino and disco.

Worth a flutter? Entirely up to you, dear reader.