NORWEGIAN EPIC EMERGES FROM THREE WEEK DRY DOCKING

Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Pool deck on the Norwegian Epic

Fresh from a three week dry docking, the Norwegian Epic left Southampton for Barcelona on Monday to begin a one of a kind season of year round sailings to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands.

The one off ship- unique in the Norwegian fleet- will return to Port Canaveral in the fall of 2016 to operate Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.

On the entertainment front, Norwegian Epic now showcases a new Cavern Club, a homage to the legendary Liverpool venue of the same name, and a new, headlining show in the form of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

In addition, the ship’s Bliss ultra night club was refurbished, together with the Mandara Spa, the library, and the outdoor marketplace. The Epic Theatre, casino and exclusive, upper deck Haven complex also benefited from such additions as new lighting, freshening up of all furniture fabrics, and new artwork.

Dining venues on board such as the Manhattan Room, Moderno Churrascaria, Tastes, Cagney’s, Le Bistro and the Lido, have also been enhanced with new, soft furnishings, decor, and fresh carpeting in places.

On the technical side, Norwegian Epic has taken on board several significant upgrades, including a new pair of propellers and new rudder caps, a fresh coat of hull paint, and enhancements to the lifeboats release mechanisms, as well as some enhancements to the on board refrigeration and storage spaces.

Over the coming winter, Norwegian Epic will cruise from Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean, as well as offering a string of nine night fly cruises to the Canary islands, also sailing from the Catalan port.

Her abrupt return to the Caribbean next fall after just one season in year round Europe cruising came as something of a surprise in certain quarters. From fall of 2016, she will be replaced permanently in that role by Norwegian Spirit- the ship that she was originally brought over to supplant.

None the less, these are interesting times at Norwegian, especially with the looming debut of the Norwegian Escape coming up rapidly on the horizon.

As ever, stay tuned.

SERENITY AT SEA- ON BOARD CRYSTAL IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

I’m back aboard Crystal Serenity, slowly gathering my thoughts as our Mediterranean cruise unfolds gradually with a sea day between Dubrovnik and Mykonos. A sense of surreal, gentle calm suffuses the entire ship from bow to stern today as she surges purposefully across the still, slightly overcast briny. As the guests take their ease and linger over another indulgent breakfast, the ship herself is quietly and efficiently taking care of their needs, moods and whims.

Thus it has always been here, and this is how it remains. It is exactly that air of calm, unruffled competence and courtesy that draws people back to Crystal time and time again. People on board sag gratefully into what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupor; one that will burst like a pretty balloon when we have to disembark in Istanbul a few days down the line.

But, right now, all that seems like a very long way away.

Two days ago, the Crystal Serenity swung loose from her moorings in Venice, gliding down the great expanse of Guidecca as perfectly poised and primped as a swan. As La Serenity bid ‘ciao’ to La Serenissima, stewards circulated on deck, distributing Bellinis to passengers taking in the magnificent vista of Piazza San Marco as we sailed downstream.

There was no real fuss or fanfare, and none was required. Just the act of this legendary vessel making her procession out to sea was ceremony enough of its own accord. Beautiful, dramatic and wonderfully understated, it was an occasion to savour rather than scream about.

On board, everything ticks as finely as a Swiss watch. The hotel and catering departments are in the hands of vastly competent professionals with many years expertise, and everything functions with cosmetic perfection. In fact, one of the finest shows on board remains the almost perfect ballet of the crew, serving guests, taking orders and offering refills before those guests often realize that they need one. The level of subtle co-ordination seems almost effortless.

Last night, the ship’s orchestra blew up a terrific storm- pun wholly intentional- in the shimmering, beautiful surroundings of the two story Crystal Cove. Guests at the circular bar were wowed by a stunning double act composed of glacial Martinis and blistering big band favourites as a delicious pre dinner appetizer.

Hearing band leader Raphael Derkson’s soaring, strident trumpet solos brought back memories of just why I love this ship so much. The quality of live music on board Crystal Serenity is- and always has been- a huge part of her success to my mind. It gives this ship a true edge that no other line quite matches.

Mister Derkson’s sassy, classy trumpet routine packs a punch that Marvin Hagler could only dream of; it is a powerhouse, virtuoso sound that is as much a Crystal trademark as the sheer, jaw dropping elegance of the ship herself, or the exquisite cuisine served up in Prego and Silk Road. With the passage of time and tide, it has become just as important an ingredient in the amazing smorgasbord that is daily life aboard this floating fantasy world.

Like Alice through the looking glass, I find myself falling, sagging with pathetic gratitude back into the good life served up on board this ship. And you see it in the other guests, too. People that you exchanged a quick ‘hello’ with the other day now stop and talk to ask how your day was in Dubrovnik yesterday – it was incredible, by the way. You see these kind of blooming, casual interactions everywhere on board.

So that’s it now from on board the good ship Crystal Serenity, as we head for an early morning rendezvous with that Goddess of hedonism sometimes also known as Mykonos. The Ice Teas are cold; the Jacuzzis are simmering gently.

Wish me luck, folks; I’m going in.

Sunset on the summertime Adriatic, seen from the Crystal Serenity

Sunset on the summertime Adriatic, seen from the Crystal Serenity

MASSIVE MEDITERRANEAN; SOME BIG, BIG ARRIVALS FOR 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

Allure Of The Seas is Barcelona bound in 2015

If a seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ cruise is on your cruising horizon in 2015, then you are going to be in line for a string of exciting mega ship options, and how. With the ‘big guns’ of Norwegian, MSC Cruises, Costa and Royal Caribbean all bringing in prime tonnage to augment their respective offerings, the choices have never been more extensive.

For the sake of argument, this blog is assuming that you are drawn to a certain kind of ship; the vast, family friendly floating resort vessels that come absolutely chock full with every leisure amenity that you could imagine, and then some. With a huge range of inclusive, across the board accommodations on offer, these vessels have proved enormously popular- and profitable- in recent years.

And they have grown bigger, too. From next spring, Norwegian will home port its ground breaking, 150,000 plus ton Norwegian Epic in Barcelona on a year round basis. The 2010 built Epic is the permanent replacement for the 78,000 ton Norwegian Spirit, which is returning to the Caribbean next October.

Costa will also have its new flagship, the 130,000 ton, state of the art Costa Diadema on the Mediterranean circuit. This fabulous new ship- built on the same platform as the hugely successful Carnival Dream class trio- will actually debut in November 2014, and is slated to be a year round presence in the region.

MSC Cruises meanwhile always retains at least one of it’s mega ships on the seven day circuit on the ‘Meddy-Go-Round’; for next year, this will be the very family friendly MSC Splendida.

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

But the real splash will, inevitably, be the arrival of the mighty, 220,000 Allure Of The Seas for a maiden, full season of seven night cruises out of Barcelona. With 6,200 berths to fill on a weekly basis and the most complete range of facilities of any resort ship in the region, the deployment of this monster ship to the region is a huge act of faith in the future from owners, Royal Caribbean.

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see just how this massive ship fares next year. A current short, first season by twin sister ship, Oasis Of The Seas, will help as a marker to iron out any potential kinks in operating ships of such vast, unparalleled scale and capacity.

With Barcelona as their main embarkation port, these massive ships typically make landfall on the ‘greatest hits’ ports of Rome, Florence, Naples, Palma De Mallorca and Monte Carlo over the course of a week. Of course, their huge size precludes them entering the smaller ports, but that is not their raison d’etre.

These ships are all about resort life at sea; each one contains a mind boggling array of alternative restaurants, bars, and increasingly exotic entertainment. Sailing relatively short distances through the night, their revenue stream becomes more akin to a torrent when sales of shore excursions are factored in.

While the Mediterranean cruise market is said to be slowly recovering from the effects of the recession triggered in 2008/9, that recovery is still sluggish. And the unprecedented number of new berths arriving with these huge ships means that there will always be a line of potentially great bargains, especially if you can be a little flexible, time wise. That said, it is also possible- likely, even- that uncertainty in other regions might boost bookings as well.

Naples is a staple of the 'Meddy Go Round'

Naples is a staple of the ‘Meddy Go Round’

Whenever you go, or for whatever reason, the seven day ‘Meddy-Go-Round’ has never offered so much potential diversity as you’re going to find in 2015. The only minor down side remains the seething, human train wreck that is Barcelona’s aptly named El Prat airport.  I would definitely advise anyone to spend at least one extra day in the city- no great hardship, that- both pre and post cruise, in order to avoid the worst of the airport crowds.

Why not- you’re worth it. Happy travelling!

 

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.

 

A WORLD OF SUNRISES AND SUNSETS……

Sunset in the Baltic

Sunset in the Baltic

Sunset over Bermuda

Sunset over Bermuda

Midnight Sun, Norway

Midnight Sun, Norway

Sunrise over Rhodes

Sunrise over Rhodes

LA sunset

LA sunset

Mediterranean sunset

Mediterranean sunset

Sunrise on the Bay of Biscay

Sunrise on the Bay of Biscay

Dusk over Mykonos

Dusk over Mykonos

Aegean sunset

Aegean sunset

San Diego sunset

San Diego sunset

Sunrise over Dover

Sunrise over Dover

Midnight sun, Baltic

Midnight sun, Baltic

Sunrise over the St. Lawrence

Sunrise over the St. Lawrence

Springtime sunset at sea

Springtime sunset at sea

Pacific sunset off Baja

Pacific sunset off Baja

Sunset off Monaco

Sunset off Monaco

Sunset over the Atlantic

Sunset over the Atlantic

Dawn over Bora Bora

Dawn over Bora Bora

Champagne sunset

Champagne sunset

Mount Vesuvius sunrise

Mount Vesuvius sunrise

Sunset on the Rhine

Sunset on the Rhine

Sunset over Hoorn hafen

Sunset over Hoorn hafen

Spring twilight, Rhine

Spring twilight, Rhine

Sunset on the River Nile

Sunset on the River Nile

Sunset over Kom Ombo

Sunset over Kom Ombo

Nile sunset

Nile sunset

One last Nile sunset

One last Nile sunset

MINI ANTIQUES- VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY OFFERS SHORTER FLY CRUISES

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

Mount Vesuvius at sunrise. See it from the Aegean Odyssey in May

In a move that is possibly a test run for future sailings, specialist operator Voyages To Antiquity is offering a pair of shorter fly cruises this May aboard the small, beautifully styled Aegean Odyssey.

The fly cruises are of five and nine nights’ duration respectively, and come inclusive of all flights, transfers, shore excursions with knowledgeable, in depth guides, and inclusive beer, wine and soft drinks with dinner each evening. And, with no single supplements to boot, they represent quite extraordinary value.

The first, five day jaunt departs from Istanbul on May 10th, with calls at Lemnos and Izmir to see the stunning, magnificent ruins of Ephesus. Moving on, the Aegean Odyssey then offers a morning touring among the sacred grave sites at Delos, followed by a few hours’ people watching in classy, stylish Mykonos, before disembarking in Athens on May 14th. Single fares for this trip begin at £895.

The second, nine night itinerary begins in Athens on May 14th, and finishes in Rome’s port of Civitavecchia. En route, the Aegean Odyssey visits Nauplia, to see the fabulous site of Epidaurus. After a day at sea, she sails on to Taormina, with it’s fantastic Greco-Roman hilltop theatre, and then on to the historic Sicilian city of Palermo for an overnight stay.

From here, Aegean Odyssey makes her way for another overnight stay; this time in fabled, springtime Sorrento. There is ample time to see such landmark sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum and, of course, the brooding Mount Vesuivius itself, as well as leaving time to enjoy some serious people watching in Piazza Tasso, or even a drive along to fabled Amalfi, or perhaps a boat trip out to Capri.

This cruise concludes the next morning. Prices for the inclusive, nine night package start from £1,495. Again, there is no single supplement.

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

The pretty little Aegean Odyssey

Flights are usually arranged on the scheduled services of British Airways, and include domestic flights to Heathrow where necessary.

The Aegean Odyssey is a small, destination intensive cruise ship with an ambiance more akin to that of a floating country club than a vast maritime theme park. With a capacity for less then four hundred passengers, she offers fabulous service and dining- both indoors and out- and a smart casual dress code.

This is not a ship for those wanting a lively, late night environment. Think of her as a very comfortable combination of a boutique hotel and a fantastic, fulfilling and educational travel experience, and you have the gist.

I particularly recommend the cove balcony cabins in the aft part of the ship as a great buy. Nicely sheltered, and with lovely canvas chairs, they offer you an expansive and roomy vantage point from which to savour those balmy spring time Aegean and Mediterranean sunsets.

NORWEGIAN EPIC 2015 CRUISE PROGRAMME; OFFICIAL

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line has just announced it’s first ever programme of year round Europe cruises for the 2010 built Norwegian Epic.

Hitherto, the French built ship has alternated between seven day summer sailings in Europe, and winter cruises to the Caribbean out of Miami.

In an announcement aboard the new Norwegian Getaway in January, CEO Kevin Sheehan confirmed that Norwegian Epic will be permanently deployed in Europe from early 2015. Today, the itineraries were officially posted.

Beginning on November 29th 2015, the ship will operate a series of nine night Canary Islands cruises, from her home port in Barcelona. This programme takes in Tangier, Madeira, Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Malaga, Spain, and runs through to April 7th, 2016. This includes the seasonal Christmas sailing, which departs on December 19th.

Like the rest of the itineraries, these will go on sale from next month.

There will also be a series of ten, eleven and twelve day round trip sailings from Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean, as well as a special, six day New Year’s Eve cruise that sails on December 28th, 2015. Ports of call offered on the longer cruises include Cagliari, Palermo, Naples and Civitavecchia.

The Canary Islands itineraries are the ones previously run by all year round Barcelona stalwart, Norwegian Spirit. It would seem to confirm that the latter ship will be leaving Europe after several successful seasons, through which she has proved to be very popular.

Norwegian Epic features cutting edge entertainment from Blue Man Group on each sailing

Norwegian Epic features cutting edge entertainment from Blue Man Group on each sailing

Norwegian has recently entered into an agreement with authorities at Port Canaveral to base an as yet nameless big ship year round in the Florida port. Odds must be quite high that this ship will be the Norwegian Spirit.

While the Norwegian Epic brings many more dining and entertainment options to the Mediterranean- the most on any year round mega ship, in fact- she also brings twice as many berths. She has a capacity of 4200, as opposed to 2000 on Norwegian Spirit. That represents a lot of berths to fill.

Still, the ship also has a complex of more than a hundred studio cabins for singles, offered at solo prices, which make the Norwegian Epic a great buy for single travellers.

These cruises offer a big literal departure for Norwegian Epic, which has hitherto operated on a seven day round trip cycle, both in Europe and the Caribbean. Ten, eleven and twelve day voyages will allow for more sea days, as well as more opportunities to showcase the ship’s extensive range of more than twenty diverse eateries.

SEADREAM IN THE SUMMERTIME MED; THE GOOD LIFE JUST GOT BETTER…..

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

Harbours full of idly bobbing yachts. Cobble stone streets and quaysides awash with waterfront bars and cafes, brimming with life well into the small hours. Porsches and Lamborghinis sitting idly under a canopy of gently waving oleander. People wearing sunglasses worth the entire national debt of a small third world country, discreetly checking out the milling throngs strolling past their lunch tables. For sure, it could only be the summertime Mediterranean.

If there is a region more dedicated to la dolce vita, or one more perfectly sculpted to deliver it in spades, then I have yet to find it. There is something so utterly seductive and compelling about those platinum chip, people watching playgrounds that sparkle along the summertime coasts of Italy, France and Spain. They draw people back year after year, like moths to a flame that bursts back into life again with the dawn of each new spring.

And, for sure, there are no shortage of huge, glitzy cruise ships that will show you the ‘greatest hits’ of the Mediterranean. Rome, Florence and Naples. Monaco and Barcelona. All places worthy of your attention and indulgence. All fabled and legendary. And, in summer, all crowded beyond all belief.

If you’ve ‘been there and done that’, then you don’t need to be told that these port intensive, week long ‘Meddy-Go-Rounds’ are great fun, yet anything but relaxing. Especially in the heat of mid summer, they can actually be damned hard work, as you try to absorb whirlwind encounters with a conga line of mind blowing cathedrals, castles, piazzas and shopping plazas. Fabulous and enjoyable it is, but relaxing it most certainly is not.

And that’s where Seadream Yacht Club comes in……

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening...

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening…

Imagine a small, 4,200 tons, all inclusive yacht, carrying a maximum of 115 guests, served by a hand picked crew of 90. Now make that yacht all inclusive from dawn till dusk, with free flowing champagne and fabulous, round the clock food that truly is ‘gourmet’, and a casual dress code that is perfectly suited to those balmy Mediterranean climes.

Imagine voyaging along and to all the small, smart resort havens that the bigger ships have to sail past. Tying up literally in the middle of town, just steps from the action. And a schedule that allows for long, lingering stays in those same ports, often overnight.

Sounds dreamlike for sure. But Seadream II is no dream. She is very, very real.

Each summer, Seadream II meanders among those peachy little splashes of paradise along the length of the Riviera and the Adriatic on a series of indolent, hugely inclusive adventures. A small marina at the stern allows her to carry such ‘toys’ as kayaks, sail boats and jet skis. In the more enclosed harbours, these are available to all passengers free of charge. It adds a whole new dimension to your idea of personal indulgence.

A unique outdoor set up means that all guests can dine alfresco- at any time of the day or night- on extraordinary, elegant fare. Imagine breakfasting on lamb chops as you sail into the stunning bay of Dubrovnik, or savour a long, lazy dinner in the fantastic, floodlit bay of Portofino. Peachy, non?

The aft pool

The aft pool

Life on board is totally informal and unstructured. Evenings tend to revolve around cocktails at the sumptuous Top Of The Yacht bar, open to sea breezes on both sides. It’s a causally spectacular little enclave, perfectly proportioned, and just as perfectly served. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away at any hour of the day or night.

The aft lido deck features a small pool, and a hot tub just perfect for midnight cocktails, after you wander back to the yacht after a few hours strolling the bar and restaurant scene in Saint Tropez. This is one of several ports where Seadream II offers a number of overnight stops and, unlike certain other ports, it really does live up to the hype; a fabulous, fun place just to ‘stroll and roll’ and take it all in.

While the staterooms do not have balconies, all are outside, and come with marvellous, mulit jet showers in a marble lined bathroom, together with top end toiletries by Bulgari. Panelled in gorgeous cherry wood, each one features a sublime double bed, mini bar, plasma screen TV, and a separate living area.

I thought at first that I would miss having my own balcony but, truth be told, Seadream II is so small, elegant and intimate that the entire yacht feels like your own private terrace. And a slew of Balinese Dream Beds on the upper deck can be reserved-again, free of charge- so that you can sleep outside, underneath the stars. in perfectly secluded privacy. At a time of your choosing, a Seadream steward will wake you with orange juice, coffee, champagne or, indeed, all three. It’s a perfect spot from which to catch the first tender, blush pink flush of an early Sorrento sunrise, and a simply wonderful experience in and of itself.

To sum it up, Seadream II is a small, perfectly formed lady, one every bit as elegant as an exquisite charm bracelet. Yet she is big on style, hospitality, and things to do- or indeed, not to do.

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera...

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera…

You can hang out in a hammock with a glass of ice cold champers, or tear up the sparkling briny on an exhilarating jet ski ride. Be as sociable or as reclusive as you wish, and when it suits you. The kind of people typically drawn to the Seadream experience tend to be affable, pretty easy going types that are very well travelled. For the most part, they share a common aversion to the crowds carried on the big ships.

Come the autumn, Seadream II crosses the Atlantic, and relocates to the balmier, more welcoming climes of the Caribbean. From here, she saunters around the smaller, more secluded yacht havens that were once the playgrounds of seventeenth century privateers such as Bluebeard and Ann Bonney.

Whatever, whenever, the same casual elegance is a constant. But I offer you one well meant word of warning; if you once get to savour the Seadream experience, it will quite likely spoil you for just about anything else.

Other than that, enjoy. It’s all good.

OVERTURE TO OASIS: EUROPEAN LANDFALL IN 2014

Oasis Of The Seas is Europe bound this year

Oasis Of The Seas is Europe bound this year

With 2014 now a reality, excitement is starting to build over this year’s European debut of the giant Oasis Of The Seas in the autumn.

The 220,000 ton game changer will sail a pair of transatlantic crossings between America and Europe, together with a brace of five night Mediterranean cruises and an eight night cruise to Holland, on either side of her first scheduled dry docking and overhaul since her 2009 debut.

The first, twelve night transatlantic crossing sails from Fort Lauderdale on September 1st, and arrives in Barcelona on the 13th, with a stop at Malaga en route. This is followed by a pair of five night jaunts to Rome and Naples, departing on September 13th and 18th.

The Oasis Of The Seas then  heads for Rotterdam on September 23rd, on a seven night cruise that takes her via Malaga and Vigo. The giant ship will be in dry dock for two weeks, before a return crossing takes her from Southampton back to Fort Lauderdale on October 15th, with stops at Cozumel and Nassau en route.

This first major European landfall for the giant ship will surely be a trial run for future deployments. With a third ship in the class already on order from STX France, a fourth vessel as a distinct possibility, and sister ship Allure Of The Seas scheduled for her own major European overhaul in 2015, the short 2014 season for Oasis Of The Seas will determine such things as the intricacies involved in docking and supplying one of the two largest cruise ships ever built.

A longer deployment of one of these ships to Europe looks to be a certainty. With a capacity in excess of 5,400 passengers, the Oasis Of The Seas will present a unique set of logistical challenges for the Spanish and Italian ports she will visit. Any potential hitches that can be uncovered and overcome now will make for a more seamless series of future deployments.

While Rotterdam might seem a strange place for a two week, labour intensive overhaul, the Dutch port and Royal Caribbean actually have a shared history. The Vision class Enchantment Of The Seas was lengthened in the same Rotterdam dockyard a few years back, the first- and so far the only one- of that six ship class to get this treatment to date.

A highlight of the programme will be the arrival of Oasis Of The Seas in Southampton on October 15th. She will be by far the largest passengers ship ever to berth in the Hampshire port- bigger than the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth combined.

No doubt Royal Caribbean will take full advantage of the tidal wave of excitement her arrival will generate. Whatever your take on big, modern cruise ships, there is no doubt at all that the coming of Oasis Of The Seas raises the cruising ante in Europe by a couple of notches.

As always, stay tuned.

HOLIDAY CRUISES- WOULD YOU LIKE A TAN WITH THAT, MADAM?

How about gifting yourself this for the holidays?

How about gifting yourself this for the holidays?

As the holiday season looms upon us like a liner gearing up for a Blue Ribband run, there are tens of thousands of very fortunate people, preparing right now for the very agreeable prospect of spending the festive season somewhere at sea.

And good luck to them as well, for there are few more gloriously indulgent things than spending Christmas and/or New Year’s Eve somewhere far more warm than the windswept hinterlands of Northern Europe. What fun, to be cocooned in an environment where you can still have your traditional Christmas turkey, even while you quietly spend your day on deck, roasting like one.

Christmas is stripped of all the normal, abrasive hassle and hustle and, in its place, you are gifted what amounts to the nautical equivalent of some marvellous, whimsical sleigh ride. On a ship, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content, with nary a worry about food preparation, or washing up afterwards. You can safely leave the awkward relatives on the side of the plate. And, instead of a post Christmas Day lunch snooze, how about an hour or so soaking in a hot tub, under a brilliantly sunny sky? Nice.

A Christmas treat to yourself could consist of some sumptuous, exotic spa treatment. Or, if you’re somewhere really balmy like the Caribbean, how about champagne at sunset on your own, private balcony? It’s a million miles removed from flaming Christmas pud and mildly stewed distant relatives, for sure.

As for New Year’s Eve, that takes some beating if you spend it at sea. Any Canaries cruise will almost certainly showcase the fantastic, midnight fireworks over magnificent, mellow Madeira on New Year’s Eve proper. And there can be no better vantage point to watch it all than some fabulous cruise ship, ablaze with light and awash with sparkling, ice cold champagne. What a way to end a year, and to start a new one.

When you wish upon a cruise....

When you wish upon a cruise….

I did a cruise over the New Year on Royal Caribbean a few years ago, in the Caribbean on the fabulous Grandeur Of The Seas. The beautifully decorated ship featured both a band and a follow on disco in the centrum, a count down to midnight by the captain, and free champagne to celebrate the new year. It was a crackling, totally electrifying cruise from start to finish.

And oh… waking up with the mother of all self inflicted hangovers, then opening the room curtains, and being greeted by the brilliant, sun drenched vision of gorgeous Grand Cayman, waiting for us in the background as the Grandeur swung gracefully at anchor.  I’ve never known such an instant, invigorating hangover cure as that one.

So, if you’re lucky enough to be out on the briny this year, do please enjoy it to the max. And remember- you’re worth it. Happy holidays, and happy sailing.