NEWCASTLE’S PORT OF TYNE TO HOST THIRTY-NINE CRUISE VISITS IN 2016

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Always a welcome sight at Port of Tyne, the Marco Polo will be back to the port in 2016

2016 will see Newcastle’s Port of Tyne hosting some thirty nine cruise ship calls between April and September, including some of the most illustrious names in the cruising firmament.

Cruise and Maritime’s flagship, Magellan inaugurates the 2016 cruise season on April 2nd, with the first of five round trip sailings to Norway and the Baltic capitals, before she returns to Tilbury on an overnight sailing on May 20th.

Later in the year, her fleet mate- the veteran Marco Polo- returns to operate two cruises- a Baltic itinerary, and a round trip to Iceland and Greenland.

Long established in northern waters, Fred. Olsen introduces it’s flagship, the gorgeous Balmoral, to the Tyne for the first time in 2016. The ship will operate the largest single round trip deployment from Port of Tyne in 2016. Beginning in May, she will offer some eleven sailings to Norway, round Britain, and even down to the Mediterranean, ranging from five to fifteen nights in length.

2016 will also see the return of some platinum chip prestige vessels on cruise visits, with the sublime Crystal Symphony returning to Port of Tyne on July 7th in the course of a North Sea voyage.

Also back is Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager on both June 8th and August 16th, while Oceania’s highly styled Nautica and Marina also make guest appearances.

Most likely to draw multi generation attention will be the first ever visits by Disney Cruise Line. The Disney Magic will visit the port twice in June; once during the course of a round Britain circuit, and again during a follow on Baltic cruise.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the Kongingsdam on August 16th is a real coup for the port. The new Holland America Line flagship will be in ‘town’ on the same day as Seven Seas Voyager. And her slightly smaller sister ship- the Zuiderdam- will also be on the Tyne on July 2nd.

All in all, a busy and prestigious roster of cruise ship tonnage will be showcased at Newcastle/Port of Tyne in 2016. Stay tuned for any updates, or see the complete list (with arrival times and departures) at; http://www.portoftyne.co.uk

 

Thanks to Lisa Donohoe at Port of Tyne for supplying the arrivals list for the Tyneside 2016 season

 

THREE OF THE BEST; UPCOMING NEWBUILDS FOR 2016

As 2015 goes full steam ahead into it’s second half, I thought now might be a good time to look forward to some of the new builds coming on line in 2016.

All three represent a pioneering new class of vessel for their respective owners. And, while two of these could well simply prove to be the lead ships of a new platform over time, one of them is almost certainly a total one off, a ship as individual as each of her three current fleet mates.

Firstly, Holland America Line has the superb new Koningsdam.  Coming on line in February, she is the first of a so-called new ‘Pinnacle class’ of vessels. Due to be delivered in March 2016, the 99,500 ton, 2,650 passenger Koningsdam will be the largest vessel ever delivered to Holland America.

Also being built in same Fincantieri yard as the Koningsdam is a larger, first of class vessel for parent company, Carnival Corporation. The brand new Carnival Vista is scheduled for an April delivery. Her maiden, thirteen night Mediterranean sailing on May 1st will mark not only the formal start of her career, but the first series of Carnival cruises anywhere in Europe for several years.

Carnival Vista is essentially an expanded and updated version of the very popular Dream class trio; she will have a gross tonnage of 133,500, and a passenger capacity of 3,936. After an inaugural season of Mediterranean cruises, the Carnival Vista will cross from Barcelona to New York in late October, prior to starting a season of winter cruises from the American east coast.

Definitely set to make a big splash- in every sense of the word- is the new, ultra deluxe Seven Seas Explorer, also fitting out at the ubiquitous, seemingly all conquering Fincantieri yard in Italy.

The first new build for Regent Seven Seas Cruises since 2003, this ultra luxury ship is setting its sights firmly on being, quite simply, the most luxurious ship in the world. Coming in at around 54,000 tons, the 700 guest ship will feature all balcony suites, making her one of the few ships in the world that can make such a claim.

These three ships offer a trio of very diverse products that largely cross the spectrum of the modern cruise industry. Each will be a trailblazer in it’s own way. And it is for certain that the progress and performance of each vessel will be very closely monitored by the competition.

Interesting times. As ever, stay tuned.

Regent's new masterpiece, Seven Seas Explorer, is set to be unveiled in 2016

Regent’s new masterpiece, Seven Seas Explorer, is set to be unveiled in 2016

LUXURY REDEFINED- THE NEXT WAVE OF SIX STAR SHIPS IS COMING….

The announcement this week of a long awaited new build from luxury cruise operator, Silversea, has gone a huge way to confirm the resurgence of the luxury cruise market which is now evident to even the most cautious of commentators. Due for delivery in 2017, the 40,000 ton, 586 guest Silver Muse will be the largest ship yet for the fleet.

We know that she will be a ‘slightly improved’ version of the very popular Silver Spirit of 2009. Rumours say that the main difference will be the relocation of the popular main bar back to its traditional aft location on the main deck. On Silver Spirit, this same room was given a midships location, just behind the reception area, which was not well received by some

In any event, this new ship- one tenth larger than Silver Spirit- represents a logical evolution of the line’s highly styled philosophy. And her genesis is the final shot (for now at least) in a very salubrious volley of new builds announced and set in motion by the main players.

New tonnage became something of a priority with the debut of Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines’ stunning Europa 2 back in 2013. With all suite accommodation, including the largest standard balconies of any line, and no less than eight restaurants, the 42,000 ton, 516 guest ship threw down the gauntlet in truly spectacular style. This stunning ship (see previous blogs) upped the ante by light years for every rival line. She is, quite simply, without peer.

So, when Regent Seven Seas came out of the blocks and announced the construction of the brand new, all-suite Seven Seas Explorer, people really sat up and took notice. At 54,000 tons, this 700 guest vessel is due to emerge from the Fincantieri shipyard next year. She will give the Regent fleet it’s third all balcony new build- quite a stunning coup in its own right.

The Seven Seas Explorer will represent evolution rather than revolution; all the tried and trusted trademarks that have made the line so popular- wildly so over the last few years- will be present, with some subtle fine tuning, to provide what will be a truly remarkable ship. The claim that she will be ‘the most luxurious ship in the world’ can be taken with a pinch of salt, though as a statement of aspiration, it’s entirely understandable.

And the opposition might have something to say about that, too. No doubt Crystal Cruises, who have finally announced a long awaited, third vessel, will do so in it’s usual, subtly elegant style. This is possibly the most eagerly awaited new ship of them all.

Little has been said about her but, like the Seven Seas Explorer, I expect that she will represent evolution rather than a seismic shift from the beautiful, highly personalised style of voyaging that Crystal does so well. For sure, we may well see larger cabins and suites, perhaps an extra deck, and one or more new eateries. But essentially, I think the as yet un-named vessel will represent gracious, genteel expansion and emphasis of the current Crystal philosophy. I certainly hope so.

Thus it is against the backdrop of these splendid new competitors that Silversea, after a long period of deliberation, has finally gone for a new ship, too. And anyone who thinks that the line will sit quietly back and play second fiddle to any competitor in the luxury market does not understand the basic ethos of Silversea, which is always about being, quite simply, the very best.

This exciting trio of vessels will take six star cruising into the next realm. Each will be a spectacular, floating fantasy island, swathed in sybaritic levels of luxury that few land based hotels can get near.

So, who will be the real winner in this glorious, gilded maritime equivalent of an arms race?

Quite simply, the customer.

Midships Bar on the Silver Spirit

Midships Bar on the Silver Spirit

AND FINALLY, SILVERSEA ORDERS A NEW SHIP

After two years of ‘will they, won’t they’ musings and mutterings, Silversea yesterday finally announced an order for a new ship, the sixth dedicated newbuild in its twenty-one year history.

The evocatively named Silver Muse will be built by Fincantieri in Italy, and is slated to enter commercial service in 2017. At around 40,000 tons, the new ship is roughly ten per cent greater in size than the last newbuild, the Silver Spirit of 2009. The new vessel will have a capacity for 596 guests.

The relationship between Silversea and Fincantieri is quite long and historic, and dates back to the building of ships for the then Sitmar Cruises back in 1987. Silversea CEO, Enzo Visione, hinted to me back in 2013 that a newbuild would be on the cards in the near future. Now his words have come true.

The new ship will take the Silversea brand up to a nine strong fleet, inclusive of the trio of currently operated expedition ships. And, while actual details on the new ship are not yet in the public domain, Visione envisages a vessel built on roughly the same platform as the popular Silver Spirit.

Now that the Silversea fedora has been formally thrown into the ring, we can look forward to a string of interesting luxury ships over the next few years. With the new Seven Seas Explorer coming on stream for Regent Seven Seas next year and a new Crystal ship also in the mix, the options for the deluxe market are once again beginning to look up.

Good news all around. As ever, stay tuned.

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

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….

 

REGENT SEVEN SEAS TO OFFER WORLD CRUISE IN 2017

For the first time in several years, Regent Seven Seas is offering guests the option of booking a full world cruise in 2017.

In a somewhat surprising move, this will be offered aboard the 1999 built, 490 guest Seven Seas Navigator. Normally consigned to a season of luxurious Caribbean cruises throughout the winter, this will actually be the first time that the six star ship has made a full circumnavigation of the globe.

However, the smaller size of the 28,000 ton ship  will allow her access to more intinate, off the beaten track ports of call, as well as the ‘greatest hits’ ports of call that fill out most potential world cruisers’ bucket list. And her entry level balcony suites are also slightly larger than those aboard her slightly larger sister ship, Seven Seas Mariner.

Though the itinerary has yet to be announced, there is no doubt that the Seven Seas Navigator is an inspired choice for a world cruise. In particular, she offers a handful of window suites, sans balcony, that might appeal more to some potential voyagers.

The entire voyage goes on sale as of July 15th, so I anticipate that the actual route will be unveiled just prior to that. Normally based in Florida over the winter season, it does seem a safe bet that the entire adventure will both start and finish in either Fort Lauderdale or, more likely, Miami.

Almost certainly, the entire affair will be offered over a number of sectors as well. And, as Regent is an all inclusive product which includes free shore excursions at every port of call, the sheer inclusiveness of this itinerary is going to be pretty hard to beat.

Interesting and intriguing by turns, this one. I expect this one to sell pretty quickly once it does actually go on sale.

As ever, stay tuned.

See the world, Regent style, in 2017

See the world, Regent style, in 2017

SHINING ON THE TYNE- CRYSTAL AND REGENT TO VISIT NEWCASTLE IN AUGUST

In what amounts ot a double shot of elegant, exclusive luxury, the port of Newcastle will for the first time play host to two ultra luxury cruise ships in August within the space of a week. This is a huge coup for the port that could set a possible trend for future, upscale arrivals in the region.

First, we have Regent Seven Seas’ classy Seven Seas Voyager. The 50,000 ton, 700 guest all suite ship will dock at North Shields for the day on Wednesday, August 19th.

One week later, it will be the turn of the sublime Crystal Symphony, slated for an 1100 arrival at North Shields on Wednesday 26th, and departing at 1900 that same evening.

The Tyne is no stranger to great luxury ships; as well as being a seasonal home base for the ships of Cruise And Maritime and Fred. Olsen, the port has been graced by such star attractions as the QE2, Silver Cloud, Westerdam and MSC Magnifica among others in recent times.

While this should hardly be surprising when considering the sheer glut of scenic overkill that the region is famed for, not to mention it’s world renowned hospitality, the arrival of these two highly styled, very exclusive vessels one after another cannot help but raise the region’s profile on the international cruise circuit.

For the locals, it will be a matter of great pride to welcome these two superb vessels and their guests to the Tyne. Stay tuned for further details.

Magnificnet Durham Cathedral; one of many regional masterpieces on offer to cruise passengers visiting the Tyne

Magnificnet Durham Cathedral; one of many regional masterpieces on offer to cruise passengers visiting the Tyne

MARITIME SNIPPETS; TIDE, TYNE, AND OUT OF TIME…..

There’s no shortage of news to digest on the maritime front. And, like anything that you are obliged to chew over- whethether actually or mentally- some leave a better taste in the mouth than others. In this industry, that is the inevitable default setting.

I was immensely saddened, but not surprised, to see the sale of the lovely little Lisboa to a scrapyard, some two years after her partially completed refit had to be aborted owing to unexpected extra costs. I had the pleasure of sailing on this staunch, dignified little dream of a ship and, to those who love her, her loss is tragic indeed, if inevitable.

On the plus front, the forthcoming arrival in the UK of Anthem Of The Seas will add a welcome splash of colour and diversity to the big ship market. Sleek, state of the art, and jam packed with a conga line of beguiling new gimmicks and estalished, old fashioned favourites, I expect this ship to be an absolute smash during her first ever European season.

For my own, native North East, this coming August will see the very welcome visits of not one, but two, six star ships within two weeks of each other. First is a very welcome debut for Regent’s sybaritic Seven Seas Voyager, still currently one of only three all suite, all balcony cruise ships in the world. She is followed a fortnight later by the excellent, perenially elegant Crystal Symphony, recently extensively refurbished and definite

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It's all going on right now in the cruise industry...

Old, new, borrowed and blue. It’s all going on right now in the cruise industry…

ly looking as regal as ever.

The arrival of such high end vessels in the region is a wonderful opportunity to show just how much this area has to offer to cruise ship passengers. I hope all concerned do everything possible to provide these incoming visitors with a wonderfully inclusive experience for the day.

For my part, I am also very much looking forward to seeing CMV’s Magellan when she arrives for her inaugural visit to the Tyne on Saturday, 28th March. The 46,052 ton ship- formerly the Holiday of Carnival Cruise Lines- has been extensively refurbished, and looks stunning in her new livery. Expect a full review of this ship shortly.

And, of course, it is not too long now until the poised, beautifully styled Viking Star makes her debut. The first of Viking Ocean’s quartet of cruise ships is very much a throwback to the traditional style of inclusive excellence once typified by the legendary Royal Viking Line, and this new ship is clearly aimed at a market that prefers a more inclusive, tradtional kind of cruise experience. Clearly, the lady is going to be quite something.

Interesting times, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

 

SHIPS GOING NOWHERE? DEUTSCHLAND AND A SUPPORTING CAST

Are some lines moving ahead faster than others this year?

Are some lines moving ahead faster than others this year?

The last couple of weeks have seen a blizzard of new, very positive announcements in the mega ship market from the likes of MSC Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian and, of course, most recently Carnival.

In addition, the mid size, upscale market has had cause to celebrate with the keel laying of a superb new vessel for Regent Seven Seas, plus the acquisition of a fourth of the original ‘R’ class vessels by Oceania. The exciting new Viking Star is imminent. And, in just a few months, Windstar is set to showcase the pair of lavishly refurbished ex-Seabourn yachts that are being added to the fleet.

In so many ways, it seems like ‘full speed ahead’ for the industry. But, while all of the developments listed above are welcome and to be lauded, somewhere in between, other ships seem to be slipping, forgotten and neglected, between the cracks in the sweeping media spotlights.

What, for instance, of Deutschland? Last linked with a bizarre takeover by Crystal Cruises, the former Peter Deilmann stalwart- one of the most beautiful, stunningly decorated ships ever built- is still swinging idly at anchor off Gibraltar. There were stated to be between two to four buyers interested in purchasing her only two months ago. Now, the sound of silence is deafening,

And what of Gemini?

Last known to be laid up in Tilbury following her stint as a hotel ship during the 2012 London Olympics, the trim little cruise liner seems to have donned some kind of cosmic invisibility cloak. No one seems to know who-if anyone- might be interested in this lovely little ship, built as relatively recently as 1992.

And no word, either, from Portuscale Cruises after stories began to circulate that the partially refurbished, 1955 built Lisboa had been put up for sale, appearing on at least one shipbroker’s sales list. The ship is said to be mechanically sound, with some work needed on the bridge instruments. Many are thinking that her future is not looking good and, par for the course, Portuscale has been typically recitent to say anything, A state of affairs that serves only to confuse the issue further.

On the plus side, the similar sized (20,000 ton) Astor has found a happy home with Cruise and Maritime Voyages, who will also continue to operate the veteran, 1948 built Azores and, of course, the superb, 1965 built Marco Polo. That ship celebrates a well deserved 50th anniversary this summer.

The latter news is a welcome glimmer of light in what seems like an otherwise constant parade of smaller, more intimate cruise ships to the scrapyard. And their demise, while perhaps understandable from an economic point of view, deprives the industry as a whole of some of the charming, quirky diversity that used to be integral to its make up.

In the midst of all the welcome news about the big ships, some more positive developments in the smaller ship sector would be very welcome as well.

And should any such news transpire, it will be recounted right here as it comes in.

My advice? As always, stay tuned.

SILVERSEA ADDS FREE SHORE EXCURSIONS AND WI FI

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Six star luxury operator, Silversea Cruises has upped the value inclusive ante in the Mediterranean this summer.

The line has announced a programme of fully inclusive shore excursions, as well as two hours’ free wi fi a day, for guests booking any one of a range of fifty-two Mediterranean itineraries from today onwards.

It remains to be seen whether this far more inclusive programme will be rolled out across the rest of the line’s extensive series of world wide itineraries.

For the past several years, Silversea has concentrated more on expanding its fleet of deluxe expedition ships more than anything else. And, despite persistent rumours of a new build of around the same size as the 2009 built Silver Spirit, nothing concrete has thus far emerged.

In the meantime, the rival Regent Seven Seas has been doing spectacular business as a result of an all inclusive programme that included all excursions, along with an all inclusive on board product. For 2015, Regent has upped the ante once more by offering free, business class upgrades for passengers booking European cruises this year.

The new incentives from Silversea will doubtless be welcomed by its loyal clientele, and may go some way towards siphoning some of the more well heeled, as yet undecided potential cruisers away from other options.

With five ultra deluxe, all inclusive ships in the mainstream fleet, Silversea was the original ultra luxury line. It made its debut in 1994, with the stunning, 296 guest Silver Cloud.  That pioneering ship quickly became the benchmark for a whole new cruising style, offering all inclusive fares and accommodation that featured around ninety per cent of private balconies. With Italian officers and a deft, highly trained staff, the line became a byword for the very best of everything afloat.

These could well be interesting days for Silversea. As always, stay tuned.