NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

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Norwegian Cruise Line is Australia bound, and in a big way, too.

The recent delivery of Norwegian Escape from Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard marked something of a watershed for Norwegian Cruise Line; she was nothing less than the fourth, 150,000 ton plus mega ship delivered to the company since 2010- an event that few would have foreseen even ten years earlier.

First off came the one of a kind Norwegian Epic, delivered from STX France in 2010, and only recently just refurbished in Southampton. Then came a trio of vessels from Germany; the Breakaway class sisters, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. And, finally, as noted above, the line took delivery of the ‘improved’ Breakaway class vessel, Norwegian Escape, as recently as October.

A second ship in that series has now been allocated to the burgeoning Chinese market. Another projected ship will be given the name of Norwegian Bliss, but she will not see the light of day for a few years.

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Singapore beckons for the Norwegian Star

Thus, 2016 will mark a hiatus in the delivery of new ships to Norwegian Cruise Line. But that should not imply any loss of momentum for the line- now under the guiding hand of industry veteran, Frank Del Rio. Quite the contrary, in fact.

2016 will see the line expand its global offerings on a scale never seen before. Following on from her usual season in Northern Europe, the Norwegian Star will make her away down to Australia, offering some first ever Mediterranean cruises en route. Sailing via Singapore, the 2001 built ship will operate a full season of voyages in and around the Antipodes.

Next winter, Norwegian Sun will showcase a series of cruises down and along the east coast of South America. Always a trailblazer within the Norwegian fleet, the popular ship- another 2001 veteran- will offer a series of voyages between Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires, ranging from seven to ten days’ duration. There will also be some longer trips in the same region.

Like Kevin Sheehan before him, Frank Del Rio has thus far made no commitment to supply the home based UK market with a year round, dedicated ship. But he has reversed one of his predecessor’s prime deployments in the year round Mediterranean market.

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Norwegian is going global for 2016

Last year, many people were surprised by the news that the company’s two dedicated, year round Europe ships- Norwegian Jade and Norwegian Spirit- would be replaced by the giant Norwegian Epic, which was to be based year round in Barcelona. The two smaller ships would be sent back to the more benign, year round waters of the Caribbean.

Now we learn that, after just this one current season sailing year round, the Norwegian Epic will return to the Caribbean- to be replaced by Norwegian Spirit once again. And, in another twist, Norwegian Jade will also return to Europe for seasonal summer sailings, mainly around Italy and the Greek Islands.

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Atrium lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

Personally, I’m delighted to welcome the beautiful, hugely under promoted Norwegian Spirit back to our shores. Her raffish oriental decor and beautiful stepped terrace decks make her one of the most distinctive and appealing ships sailing these waters year round.

As for Bermuda and Alaska, Norwegian retains a strong, seasonal, multi ship deployment. There are also year round sailings to the Caribbean. And, for 2016, the Norwegian Sky is going to all inclusive pricing on her short, three and four day round trip sailings from Miami to the Bahamas.

I just wish that Norwegian would create some more upbeat, short haul routes for the Norwegian Sky. While her short cruises make for great little breakaways, they have become pretty much pedestrian, and far too predictable for a lot of people.

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Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

Frankly, many people are sick and tired of Nassau, a place that has a very brittle charm at best. Ditto Freeport. Sure, Great Stirrup Cay has been massively enhanced recently, but is that one call alluring enough to book for alone?

A few years back, Norwegian were offering some great, five night cruises from Miami that took in both Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Now might be a good time to consider reviving this route, using the Norwegian Sky. 

At the very least, why not vary the current, four night itinerary to include Key West every second week, and maybe even Cozumel as well? My feeling is that Norwegian really are missing the boat on this one- pun wholly intentional.

Perhaps such ideas are already under consideration, who knows?

But one thing that is for sure; it really is nice to see Norwegian making real, palpable headway again after playing second fiddle to the likes of Carnival and Royal Caribbean for such a long time. The future of the innovators of Caribbean fly cruising is one that I will follow with interest.

As ever, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

GENTING HK BUYS GERMANY’S LLOYD WERFT SHIPYARD

It’s now official; Genting HK, parent company of Crystal Cruises, has bought Germany’s hugely prolific Lloyd Werft shipyard in a 17.5 million Euro deal that gives the company something like fifty percent of the land area, and a full seventy per cent of any new  build business.

The deal is the precursor to the construction by Lloyd Werft of a trio of new, 100,000 ton ice strengthened cruise ships for Crystal itself.

In recent years, the yard has been instrumental in either building, refitting or lengthening some six cruise ships for Norwegian Cruise Line. Set up as far back as 1857, the yard has a whole slew of building and refitting work to its credit.

Among other things, Lloyd Werft carried out regular refits and periodic overhauls of both the QE2 and the SS. Canberra. And, over the winter of 1979-80, the yard also carried through the ground breaking conversion of the SS. France into the SS. Norway- the first true mega cruise ship.

The acquisition of Lloyd Werft allows obvious synergies in respect of constructing vessels for both Crystal and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s part partner under the Genting banner.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft's greatest achievements

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft’s greatest achievements

NORWEGIAN SKY IN RETROSPECT

When she entered service in the late summer of 1999, the Norwegian Sky was the first purpose built mega ship for Norwegian Cruise Line, and she created quite a stir. At 77,000 tons, the stunningly beautiful ship soon became a popular staple on the week long Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami.

But she had actually been ordered by Costa Cruises as the Costa Olympia, a sister ship for the Italian line’s hugely successful Costa Victoria. Financial problems at the German shipyard caused Costa to abandon the project and, to the surprise of many, the incomplete hull was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line instead.

After some radical redesign that included the addition of two decks of balcony cabins, the newly renamed Norwegian Sky entered service in August 1999, offering a few sailings in northern Europe, before crossing the Atlantic to take up Caribbean station in Miami.

From here, she operated a series of alternating, seven night cruises to the western and eastern Caribbean. The Norwegian Sky proved so popular that the company ordered a pair of near identical sister ships, though only one- the current Norwegian Sun – was actually built.

The two sister ships remain among the most beautiful cruise ships at sea, with proud, gracefully raked bows and a single funnel. The upper decks remain some of the most expansive and best laid out of any ships sailing anywhere today. Both have proved to be solidly, consistently successful ships.

In 2004, the Norwegian Sky was hurriedly transferred to the new NCL Hawaii brand after the newly wrought Pride Of America suffered a major flooding at her fitting out dock in Germany. Rushed around to San Francisco, the ship was given a heavy, Polynesian style make over and renamed as the Pride Of Aloha.

From Honolulu, she spent four years sailing around the waters of Hawaii, before a long overdue scaling back of the overly ambitious Hawaiian cruise project saw the ship return to Miami in 2008.

An intended sale to the Spanish cruise operator, Pullmantur, never materialised. Instead, she resumed her former name of Norwegian Sky and re-entered service for Norwegian out of Miami.

She remains in service to this day, sailing on three and four night cruises to the Bahamas each week. Three night voyages leave on a Friday and call at Nassau, as well as the company’s ‘private island’ of Great Stirrup Cay.

Her four night Monday sailings add Freeport in the Bahamas to the same mix. And, with her Polynesian décor left largely intact, the Norwegian Sky is an intriguing, wonderfully quirky contrast to any of the other mega ships sailing from the Florida port.

With a full range of Freestyle Dining options on board, the Norwegian Sky is perfect for a quick, invigorating getaway. In some ways, it really is a shame that Norwegian does not send the ship on more varied routes occasionally. She would be absolutely perfect on a five night itinerary to Cozumel and Grand Cayman, for example; very similar to the voyages once offered from Miami on board the Norwegian Jewel.

For now, the stalwart Norwegian Sky remains on station in Miami, carrying over four thousand passengers each week on a series of sunny, fun fuelled jaunts to the Bahamas. I hope she continues sailing for Norwegian for a great many years.

Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

NORWEGIAN ESCAPE TO BE FLOATED OUT TODAY

Around 1100 this morning, the brand new, 164, 600 ton Norwegian Escape is due to be cautiously floated out from the covered dock in  Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

The enormous ship is the first vessel of the so called Breakaway plus class, due to be rounded out with one more vessel in the same vein- the upcoming Norwegian Bliss.

Today’s carefully co-ordinated float out is a huge milestone in the life of a ship which is already close to completion, in actual fact. Next month, the enormous vessel will be moved a few miles down the River Ems for her final outfitting.

The first crew members will actually board the ship in the next few days, to begin familiarising themselves with the ship and her various operating systems and policies.

Following on from her sea trials, the ship will make a series of short, introductory overnight cruises, as well as holding ‘open house’ for various media events, before she leaves Southampton on her positioning voyage; a ten night cruise over to Miami, pencilled to sail on October 29th.

After initial celebrations and further media hosting on board, the Norwegian Escape will then begin a series of seven night, round trip sailings to the eastern Caribbean, calling at St. Thomas, St. Maartern, Tortola, and Nassau.

Norwegian Cruise Line has quite a lot to smile about lately....

Norwegian Cruise Line has quite a lot to smile about lately….

SAMBA SUN! NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE IS ROLLING DOWN TO RIO.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun will be returning to South America for the winter of 2016-17, offering a series of cruises from a new home port of Rio De Janeiro along with old favourites, such as Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, in Chile.

The pioneering ship, built in 2001, thus continues in her role as the company’s traditional ‘trail blazer’, opening up new itineraries and routes that other ships sometimes later take up. It’s a role in which the 78,000 ton ship has proved to be perennially popular.

From December 2016 through to the following March, the Norwegian Sun will sail a series of tantalising, ten night voyages between Rio and Buenos Aires in either direction. Highlighted by an overnight stay on board in one or other of these two embarkation ports, the Norwegian Sun will also call in at ports such as Santos, Buzios, Montevideo, and Ilha Grande.

If time is an issue, there are also a pair of shorter, seven night sailings that bracket four of the greatest hits ports en route, namely Montevideo, Ilha Grande, Puenta el Este, and Santos; a pretty full on, exhilarating week in the depths of a European winter for sure.

Norwegian Sun will also serve up some four, fifteen night round trip cruises, sailing between Buenos Aires and Santiago, in Chile. These will showcase the best of the Chilean fjords, offering calls at ports such as Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, and the Falkland islands. There is also one special, festive sailing on December 23rd, a fourteen night round trip fiesta departing from Buenos Aires.

With new ships coming on line over the next few years, and expansion of itineraries to include Asia for the first time in over a decade, Norwegian really seems to be moving itself into high gear on a much more global scale than before. I just hope that the company does not spread itself too thinly.

That said, these new South America cruises offer a great deal more scope and diversity than anything offered by Norwegian in the past. I expect them to sell well.

As ever, stay tuned.

The Norwegian Sun is Rio bound in 2016

The Norwegian Sun is Rio bound in 2016

NORWEGIAN EPIC REDEPLOYS TO FLORIDA IN 2016-17

As part of a hugely comprehensive redeployment that will include a welcome return to Asia after a hiatus of more than a decade, Norwegian Cruise Line has decided to return its pioneering mega ship, Norwegian Epic, to cruising from Florida for the winter 2016-17 season.

Prior to this, it had been determined that the 154,000 ton Epic would be based in Europe year round, cruising to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands, mainly from Barcelona, on a series of itineraries ranging from six to twelve nights’ duration.

Instead, the ship will now return to Florida, to be replaced once again by former year round Europe favourite, Norwegian Spirit.

Built in 2010, the Norwegian Epic will be home ported at Port Canaveral for the first time when she returns to Florida in the autumn of 2016. From there, she will operate a series of mainly seven night sailings to the highlights of the eastern and western Caribbean.

The seven night eastern Caribbean voyages will offer calls at Tortola, St. Thomas, and the company’s ‘private island’ of Great Stirrup Cay. Western Caribbean itineraries will feature calls at Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Great Stirrup Cay.

In addition, the Norwegian Epic will offer a short season of three and four night cruises to the Bahamas during January and March of 2017, with calls at Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay.

This redeployment of the Epic brings down the curtain on her European role after only one full season- the one she is currently sailing- in that role.

On the other hand, she will be a far more formidable competitor to the upgraded Royal Caribbean hardware sailing out of Port Canaveral. And many will also welcome the return to year round European sailings of the raffish, exotic Norwegian Spirit. In many respects, that latter ship is the most under rated in the entire Norwegian fleet. During her time in Europe, she attracted a loyal fan base that tended to sail on her year in, year out.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned for updates.

Jumbotron movie screen on the Norwegian Epic

Jumbotron movie screen on the Norwegian Epic

FRED’S FAB FOUR- A BIG DAY OUT FOR FRED. OLSEN CRUISE LINES

Today’s first, historic rendezvous of all four Fred. Olsen cruise ships in Bergen is ample cause to celebrate the more intimate style of voyaging that the company is famous for. But, way beyond even that, it is the celebration of a Norwegian company, long imbued with deep and historic links to Great Britain, that enjoys a unique travelling relationship with the British public.

As such, I thought it might be worth a quick look back at each of the ‘Fab Four’ as they line up for their big day out in what remains one of the most beautiful and popular ports of call on the company’s cruising roster.

BLACK WATCH was originally built in 1972 as the Royal Viking Star, the first of three nearly identical new sister ships commissioned by the then fledgling Royal Viking Line. She sailed with that legendary company through until 1991, when she was transferred to Norwegian Cruise Line, sailing first as the Westward and then as the Star Odyssey.

She was bought by Fred Olsen, entering service for them in November, 1996 as the heavily refurbished Black Watch. Ever since, the ship has enjoyed consistent, popular success as an elegant, highly styled cruise ship, offering itineraries ranging from two night mini cruises, to full, three month round the world voyages. At a svelte 28,000 tons, the Black Watch carries some 820 passengers in total.

BRAEMAR was originally ordered as the Crown Dynasty for the now defunct Crown Cruise Lines, and entered service in 1993. After a long spell as the Norwegian Dynasty of NCL, the ship was laid up at Aruba, where she was purchased by Fred. Olsen, and then extensively updated in Germany.

She entered service for Fred. Olsen in August, 2001 as the Braemar, and she soon became very popular indeed with her yearly season of winter Caribbean fly cruises, based out of Barbados, for which her intimate size was perfect. In the autumn, she also cruises from the Canary Islands, sometimes as far south as West Africa, and the recent winter resumption of her Caribbean itineraries after an absence of a few years, has been very well received.

Coming in at around 24,000 tons, Braemar currently has a capacity of around 929 passengers.

BALMORAL is currently the company’s flagship, and the largest passenger vessel ever to fly the Fred. Olsen flag. The 43,000 ton Balmoral was originally built in Germany as the Crown Odyssey in 1988, for the now sadly vanished Royal Cruise Line. In the late nineties, one of her fleet mates was the Star Odyssey, now also sailing for Fred. Olsen as the Black Watch.

She was an elegant and luxurious ship from the start, famed for her beautiful art deco interiors. After stints with both Orient Lines and NCL, for whom she sailed as the Norwegian Crown, she came over to Fred. Olsen in 2008.

After a thorough and very comprehensive refit, the ship entered service as Balmoral in 2008. Ever since, she has operated on longer, globe spanning voyages each January, and offered a full season of cruises to Norway, the Baltic, the Adriatic and Iberia during the rest of the season.

Updated for British tastes, this wonderful ship still has much of her original striking features and styling intact. She continues to be very popular with passengers wanting to cruise on an elegant, eminently seaworthy vessel that still offers an intimate, more personalised style of cruise experience. She has a passenger capacity of around 1,778 in total.

BOUDICCA is the near identical twin sister ship of the Black Watch. She, too, began life for Royal Viking Line as the Royal Viking Sky back in 1973, as one of the most exclusive and luxurious vessels anywhere at sea. She sailed with that company for eighteen full years, until 1991.

There was then a period where she was briefly used by Birka Line, NCL, Princess Cruises, Iberocruises, and even Star Cruises out in Asia. But this period of rapid change came to an end with her purchase by Fred. Olsen.

She entered service in February, 2006, after a massive refurbishment and with new engines, as the Boudicca, named for the legendary queen of the former Iceni tribe. In this new role, the ship has been very popular, offering itineraries as diverse as two night party cruises, right through to full, thirty two day round trips, out to the Caribbean and back.

Boudicca has also been something of a trail blazer for the fleet, sailing on cruises form ports as diverse as Belfast, Tilbury, Greenock, and Port of Tyne. With a tonnage of 28,000, the Boudicca can accommodate some 900 passengers in all.

DID YOU KNOW??

* All four of the ships in the current Fred. Olsen fleet have been cut in half and lengthened in the course of their careers.

* All four of them have sailed for Norwegian Cruise Line at some stage in their history.

* The entire number of berths offered across the entire fleet is still less than those aboard the monolithic Oasis of The Seas.

*  Next year, Balmoral will replace Boudicca on her summer season of cruises from Port of Tyne, the cruise port for Newcastle.

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

CELESTYAL CRYSTAL IN COLLISION

The 24,000 ton Celestyal Crystal has sustained bow damage after a collision with the tanker, Ste Pimlico, over the weekend.

On board at the time were some 852 passengers and 382 crew. All are reported to be OK, as are the men on board the tanker.

A photograph reveals a deep, wedge shaped gash in the prow of the Crystal- once very well known as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ popular MS Leeward.

The collision happened while the ship was embarked on one of her popular, seven night cruises from Piraeus to the Greek Isles and Turkey.

According to owners, Celestyal Cuises, the damage must be repaired before the ship can continue with its scheduled cruise season. This includes a third, upcoming winter charter to Cuba Cruises to operate the popular round Cuba cruises sold mainly to Canadian passengers.

Celestyal has been very proactive in coming forward with a number of alternative arrangements for those passengers on board at the time. These include; A free, two day hotel stay in Istanbul, free shore excursions, the option of a transfer home, or the possibility of transferring to another ship in the fleet.

In addition, all passengers will receive a full refund on their fare, plus a complimentary, free seven day cruise. This must be taken by December, 2016.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Celestyal  Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

Celestyal Crystal at Lavrion, Greece, last summer

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF THE CARIBBEAN IN WINTER

On the face of it, winter is the ideal season for scores of sun deprived, pale faced Europeans to flee to the far warmer, more welcoming waters of the Caribbean.

And flee we do. Like hordes of migrating bluebirds, we follow the sun and pour up the gangways of the megaships, sailing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral to those sun splashed little island idylls. Snow, slush and bone chilling cold is no competition for the subtle, seductive lure of broad, bone white beaches, idly waving palms, and the indolent ‘no worries’ lifestlye that has always made the Caribbean so damned compelling in winter. On the face of it, it’s a no brainer.

Of course, the same holds broadly true for our American and Canadian friends, especially those bunkered down in that bitter winter bruiser known as the north east corridor. From Toronto down to Washington, DC, plane load after plane load of weary winter refugees sag gratefully into the open arms of benign Florida sunshine. The world and it’s wife can take care of itself for a week. It’s full speed ahead, destination sunshine.

And, while all of this is fine and dandy, it very much depends what you want from your Caribbean experience. If all you want is just a fun filled week in the sun, then fine. But, if you really want to get ‘under the skin’ of those self same islands, there are some other things you should know about the Caribbean winter cruise circuit.

OVERCROWDING

Any way you slice it, the winter Caribbean cruise circuit is very, very, crowded. Scores of ships that spend summers in Europe and Alaska flee like migrating birds of passage to the warmer, more welcoming Caribbean sun each fall, and stay there till the following spring.

This can mean some fantastic bargains in terms of fares, but trust me, there will be very little that is peaceful and quiet about those islands. Traffic is intense, and almost all of the main shopping streets are a glut of gold, tanzanite and diamond shops. Roads are busier, taxis more in demand. It takes longer to get anywhere and, inevitably, everywhere is much, much, more crowded. Little surprise, then,  that tempers can sometimes run just as hot as the temperatures.

To give one example; back in December 2003, I saw no less than fifteen cruise ships stocked up at Cozumel, Mexico. Every pier was full. Some of the most famous and prestigious cruise ships in the world were obliged to anchor offshore, tendering their passengers in. By the time you factored in the off duty crews coming ashore from all of these ships, the result was a vast human tidal wave, well in excess of thirty thousand strong.

AND MORE ARE COMING…..

That was 2003. The count of new cruise ships coming on line since then is mind boggling. And more are coming.

Virgin Cruises wil debut a trio of enormous new cruise ships in a few years, each one bound for the winter Caribbean. MSC Cruises will also offer year round Caribbean cruises, with their enormous new Seaside-class vessels, too. Newbuilds from Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line will further add to the mix. Rather than getting calmer and more sedate, the Caribbean is going to get busier and louder. And there is no changing that.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD?

Many repeat Caribbean passengers are, quite frankly, getting bored with the same old islands. Warm and inviting as they are, the likes of St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Grand Cayman have become something of a well worn ‘greatest hits’ collection of Caribbean hot spots. So the cry goes up; what’s new? We want new!

And ‘new’ is what passengers will get. Well, kind of. Brand new cruise line developments such as Amber Cove and Harvest Caye, purpose built from scratch, provide the kind of safe, secure Caribbean experience that might well entice the old hands back, as well as wowing the newbies. How much connection these wonderful, almost Disney-esque places have to the actual, day to day experience of Caribbean living is another thing. But then, you’re not going to live there, are you?

Those points made, there are ways in which your winter Caribbean fun run can be kicked up by several notches. Here’s just a few points that you may find worthy of your august consideration.

FLY FURTHER SOUTH TO BOARD A SHIP

That’s right. Give Florida’s fun fuelled embarkation ports a complete swerve, and board a ship in, say, Barbados, or even Puerto Rico. Though you’ll still get the crowds, you are far closer to many of the islands themselves. On a typical, seven night cruise, you’ll hit at least six different island calls. Frantic yes, but you’ve got more chance of a richer, deeper experience. For many, this could be a deal breaker.

GO SMALLER

Forget those fun filled floating theme parks, and go for a voyage on the smallest, most exclusive ship that you can afford. The smaller they are, the more inclusive they seem to be.

The likes of Silversea, Star Clippers, Regent, Seadream, Seabourn and Crystal will all offer you salubrious, sybaritic indulgence on such a scale that the experience of cruising the Caribbean is massively elevated. These smaller ships can raise the bar- and the price- by quite a way, but the experience is truly unforgettable.

They can also often access the smaller, far more intimate islands, such as Jost Van Dyke and St. Barts, that the big ships have to bypass. Thus, your Caribbean experience becomes far more intimate, pared down and personal. In short; you get what you pay for.

Buteven the most exclusive of ships will sometimes deliver you into the same massive crowds at the ‘greatest hits’ ports. Your six star, boutique ship may well look swanky and impressive when docked next to the latest floating death star at sea, but you will still be competing with its passenger load for access to taxis, beach space, and shopping and restroom facilities. Which is precisely why these de luxe ships try and avoid the busiest of these ports in peak season; sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. It’s horses for courses.

All of that said, none of the points up above should prevent you from running like a March hare to any of those islands in the sun during the winter. Maybe, like me, you are quite happy to relax on board quite a bit, and then just saunter off to a favourite, nearby beach for a few hours once the crowds have headed off for their day of pirating ashore. And, crowded or not, few things sooth the soul quite like a hammock on some sunny beach, with a feisty, frost crusted strawberry daiquri to hand, with warm sun, cool breezes, and the sound of reggae kissing your ears. It worked for me back in the Eighties, and it still works now.

Maybe I’m just weak and predictable, mind you.

The bottom line is that the Caribbean has it’s complications and flaws in winter, and some will find them maddening to the point of temporary distraction. But hey- a distracted day in paradise, noise, crowds and all, is still a giant leap for mankind better than a day driving through a blizzard to reach the factory or office.

On balance, get out there. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls, and choose accordingly.

And yes, I’m afraid that hammock is taken. Have a nice day.

A winter wonderland; it's called the Caribbean....

A winter wonderland; it’s called the Caribbean….