BACK ON THE SOUL TRAIN- CARIBBEAN DISCO CRUISING IN 2015

Eurodam. Rocking the Caribbean in the finest of style

Eurodam. Rocking the Caribbean in the finest of style

Imagine a balmy February cruise to the sun splashed waters of the Eastern Caribbean aboard one of the highly styled, beautifully served ships of the fabled Holland America Line. Savour the idea of visiting such beautiful sights as Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, Saint Thomas and Puerto Rico.

Then throw in a raft (pun wholly intentional) of top line entertainment, including Gladys Knight, KC And The Sunshine Band, and the legendary Spinners, along with a host of others. Sounds good- maybe too good to be true?

Oh, but true it really is.

Following on from the success of similar sailings to the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera, a company called Entertainment Cruise Productions has chartered Holland America’s stunning Eurodam for another of it’s Soul Train cruises. The idea is simple; take a large, luxurious vessel with a substantial entertainment handle, and then fill it with a whole conga line of established soul and disco acts to provide some sizzling, after dinner shows; everything from frantic dance stuff to some slow, mellow grooves.

It’s all a play on the once immensely popular, long running Soul Train television show and, this far, these cruises have been massively successful with cruisers and party goers of a certain vintage. Built around a week long circuit out of Fort Lauderdale, the opening cruise of 2015 looks certain to be another sell out.

The Eurodam cuts loose from Florida on February 22nd, 2015, on a voyage that takes in the four ports mentioned above. As far as the line up for the actual Soul Train shows go, here’s the list of artistes and performers already booked to be on board;

Maze featuring Frankie Beverley- Gladys Knight- KC And The Sunshine Band- The Spinners- Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes- Russell Thompkins, Jr And The New Stylistics- Marilyn McCoo And Billy Davis, Jr- Regina Belle- Valerie Simpson- The Delfonics.

A day at Grand Turk

A day at Grand Turk

By any standards, that’s a hugely formidable line up. Personally, I’d go just to hear McCoo and Davis- former lead singers of the legendary Fifth Dimension as well as successful solo artists, and just for half a chance to meet the legendary Valerie Simpson who, with her former partner- the late Nick Ashford- wrote so many of the early landmark solo hits for Diana Ross, as well as many others.

This is really several voyages rolled into one; it’s a voyage through a sea of stunning culinary creations that Holland America serves up with such extraordinary aplomb. And it’s a voyage to a quartet of idyllic, sun splashed Caribbean idylls, each one as distinct as a human fingerprint.

But, above all, this is a voyage back in time; a chance to reconnect with a more graceful, stylised groove. A time when good was ‘bad’. and ‘bad’ was as good as it got. Wonderful stuff.

Just imagine; a day where you can chill out at somewhere as beautiful as Magens Bay on St. Thomas, and then enjoy a night dancing on deck to KC And The Sunshine Band? 

Magens Bay, Saint Thomas

Magens Bay, Saint Thomas

Bad. In the very best sense of the word.

BIGGING UP BERMUDA- NEW CRUISE TERMINAL DEVELOPMENTS ON THE WAY? (Updated)

Crystal Symphony, tendering passengers into Hamilton, Bermuda

Crystal Symphony, tendering passengers into Hamilton, Bermuda

Cruise Industry News has posted a revealing little snippet about the possible future direction of summer cruises to Bermuda.

It says that the Bermuda government may be partnering with an un-named ‘major cruise line’ to deliver a new docking facility on the east end of the island, as well as upgrading existing docking facilities to allow the arrival of the largest classes of mega ships.

The latter part of this is a no brainer, It surely refers to the existing facilities on the west end of the island, over at Kings Wharf. These currently allow ships in excess of 150.000 tons to berth- the area is home port for the brand new Norwegian Breakaway-to dock, four at a time. Presumably, any further expansion is aimed at attracting seasonal visits from either the enormous, 22,000 plus tons Oasis and Allure of The Seas.

Those two giants regularly operate year round Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, but either could just as easily offer an alternative, one week round trip to Bermuda if demand was deemed to be sufficient. It would certainly be something extra for the ships to offer to attract passengers jaded with the Caribbean. And, with enhanced docking facilities at Kings Wharf, a trial run would be at least practical for Royal Caribbean.

The bruited new east coast passenger terminal is far more enigmatic, and infinitely more controversial. It could only be around the area of the original capital of St. George’s, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of outstanding natural beauty. Hamilton, the current capital, is on the north coast, midway between the western and eastern extremities, and so does not sound like the development in question.

Side streets of St. George's, Bermuda

Side streets of St. George’s, Bermuda

The problem with St. George’s is that the entrance to the harbour can accommodate nothing above 50,000 tons at present. The coral reefs that flank it would have to be cut away massively to allow access of any kind- a bone of contention that has bedevilled attempts to revive the once lucrative St. George’s cruise trade for the better part of two decades.

The area could desperately use a return of mainstream cruises. In the late nineties, St George’s was regularly attracting four overnight cruise ship calls a week, week in and out from May to October. In 2011, the same port attracted just two in six months.

Holland America Line tried to resurrect the traditional Bermuda cruise for a few years with the mid sized Veendam, but lack of berthing space at the east end eventually scuppered that. So, when both HAL and parent company, Carnival, reviewed options for the 2013 season, they decided to abandon Bermuda altogether. The loss of HAL in particular was a body blow to the rump of the island’s east coast trade.

So an east coast terminal would clearly be to the economic benefit of both cruise lines and locals. But who is the cruise line looking to actively build such a facility?

I’m guessing it’s Carnival, who have a fine track record for developing purpose built locations such as Grand Turk, and the terminals in Barcelona and Savona for their Costa brand. For years, their rivals- Norwegian, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean- have been holding court over at the lucrative Kings Wharf side of the island. Making a play for a dedicated east coast base would give Carnival a quite unique location.

The beauty of Bermuda is legendary

The beauty of Bermuda is legendary

But there are other potential obstacles on the horizon, such as the Bermuda government’s so far apparently steadfast determination to refuse on board casinos and shops permission to open while in port; a huge revenue loss to consider when ships are berthed in Bermuda for a minimum of two nights. Yet there did seem to be some signs of concession from the authorities ashore a few years ago, faced with a rising tide of cruise ship losses to the Caribbean. Perhaps some leeway in these laws could be the sweetener for the proposed new venture?

In any event, this is one worth watching. It will also be interesting to see how the infrastructure of Bermuda- an island only some twenty one miles long- can adapt to the anticipated increase in cruise trade.  The network of ferries and buses that cover the island are inadequate, there are precious few taxis, and private car hire is non existent.

All of these points will have to be addressed if the Bermuda cruise trade is to be revived but, faced with continually losing out to its neighbours in the Caribbean, the Bermuda government really has very little room for argument here.

Stay tuned.

Original report source: Cruise Industry News, 2/10/13.  www.cruiseindustrynews.com

Additional information: As of October 4th, 2013, the Bermuda Parliament voted to allow cruise ship casinos to stay open from 9pm to 5am while docked in Bermuda. Ships will need to remain in port for one night or longer to qualify, and a casino licensing fee will also be payable.

ENCORE FOR EUROPA 2- 2014-15 SEASON HIGHLIGHTS updated

Taking wining and dining to Olympian heights- the new Europa 2

Taking wining and dining to Olympian heights- the new Europa 2

Following on from a critically acclaimed first season in the Mediterranean, Hapag Lloyd Cruises has just launched the 2014-15 brochure for its stunning new Europa 2.

The 42,000 ton wunderschiff has been winning rave reviews from passengers and industry experts alike for her unique take on family friendly, upscale cruising. With eight open seating restaurants, a maximum capacity of 516 guests carried in all balcony accommodation, many interconnecting suites and a smart casual dress code, Europa 2 has massively upped the ante in terms of the premium luxury experience.

Top billing in the 2014 roster goes to a pair of transatlantic crossings, which will see the Europa 2 make spectacular entries into both New York, and her home port of Hamburg on June 7th 2014.

The company is also running a short season of four day, introductory cruises for the ship. Some of these serve up both Oslo and Copenhagen, while others take in the idyllic, little known Baltic islands of Usedom, Bornholm, and the city of Wismar.

In all, the Europa 2 will premiere some 167 different ports of call, spread across five different regions as geographically diverse as Scandinavia to South America, as well as a first season of headlining, seven day Caribbean cruises out of Miami. Ports on offer on the Caribbean roster include Barbuda, Grand Turk and the yachting haven of Jost Van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands.

La Serenissima restaurant, Europa 2

La Serenissima restaurant, Europa 2

Thirty two different routes- one for every different kind of gin carried by the ship- will offer up a wealth of smaller, off the beaten track destinations, often far away from the madding crowds of contemporary cruise ship scheduling.

There is also a mind blowing, 76 day complete circumnavigation of the entire South American continent for seriously determined- and rich- sybarites

Key to the ship’s 2014 season will be a second series of cruises in the summertime Mediterranean. There, the Europa 2 will once again operate a series of seven night cruises that can be interconnected to form a string of fabulous long voyages.

Golf fans will be in nineteenth hole Heaven, with a series of four specially themed cruises that offer the chance to play the best courses in ports such as Bilbao, Malaga and Casablanca amongst others.

As well as a string of clubs and activities for children and teens of all ages, Europa 2 has a staff of six trained nannies, meaning that parents of young children can really take the weight off their feet, and truly relax on board. Typical, seven day family accented cruises will run between Civitavecchia (Rome) and Barcelona, as well as between Malta and Piraeus.

Europa 2 will serve up the best of the Caribbean in 2014

Europa 2 will serve up the best of the Caribbean in 2014

On her first, full year round deployment, it will be interesting to see how this uniquely different vessel- she operates in both English and German languages- actually stacks up against the established, de- luxe ships that have been in service for a number of years now. But with both the highest prices- and the highest passenger space ratio- in the luxury cruise ship industry, the Europa 2 is certainly going to be a formidable competitor for the top end of the travel trade.

The brochure covers all sailings from April 2014 to April, 2015. It is released with all UK pricing this month.

Update: Berlitz has just announced it’s confirmation of the Europa 2 as the highest rated cruise ship in history, with an unparallelled 1,860 points scored from a possible maximum of 2,000.

JUST GRAND FOR A DAY- GRAND TURK ISLAND

CNV00051Grand Turk is part of the small archipelago known as the Turks and Caicos islands. Seen from above, they would resemble nothing so much as a few slivers of emerald green, with outlines etched in clear white, somehow incredibly afloat in a sea of turquoise. And, in fact, their main claim to fame for many years was space related.

CNV00042John Glenn came down in his Mercury capsule in the waters just off the coast here back in 1962, and there are also some who claim Grand Turk as the original spot where Columbus actually set foot on the shores of the new world for the first time. Adventurous though he was, the Spanish explorer has travelled far more miles in fiction than ever he-or John Glenn for that matter- ever did in fact.

These days, Grand Turk is the biggest island in the group; a colossus fully seven square miles in total. The gin clear waters are a magnet for divers from all over the world, while simple, stunning beaches along the road near Grace Bay are among the best- and least busy- anywhere in the entire Caribbean.

CNV00045The small capital of Cockburn Town has a population of less than four thousand, and has many pretty, palm shaded colonial style buildings along the main road, with picket fences and roosters strutting nonchalantly in the mid day heat. A lot of the buildings here are very reminiscent of the style of architecture found on Bermuda, a thousand miles to the north. All things considered, it’s a sweet, rustic little smorgasbord a million miles slower in tempo than the islands to the south.

CNV00041A few years ago, Carnival built a facility here to dock two large cruise ships, and also created an adjacent themed village and relaxation area for the passengers. Among other things, it includes the world’s biggest branch of Jimmy Buffett’s famed ‘Margaritaville’ franchise. There are pools, palms, and wooden rocking chairs in a riot of brightly coloured shades, as well as the inevitable logo merchandise outlets. There’s also a small, beautiful sweep of beach that fronts it. The whole complex is set up for serious, indolent fun, and it’s an absolute knock out.

CNV00052And yet I found myself wandering after a while. Up towards Cockburn Town. The crowds did not make it this far. It was like entering a parallel universe.

CNV00054Small, brightly coloured fishing boats lay upturned on the smallest slivers of fine, flesh coloured sand. Small. rickety bars, half hidden behind walls of blooming poinsetta, loomed out over the beautiful waters, with just the ghost of a breeze tickling the cold beads running down the neck of my first beer. My footprints were the only ones on the sand. It was quiet, serene, and utterly spellbinding. And, of course, it is unlikely to stay that way.

So I sat on the edge of this sweet little space for a while, dangling my legs off the pier, and trying to imagine John Glenn’s exalted descent from the heavens as he splashed into these self same waters. I don’t know what the Iguana crouched just across the way from me was thinking.

CNV00053Obviously not the sociable kind. But hey, it’s all good. And Lord, it surely was. What a great day just to be alive, and to be thankful for the fact.