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.

 

EXPECTATIONS RISE FOR SEVEN SEAS EXPLORER

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent has a new ship coming in 2016

Regent Seven Seas has announced that the inaugural programme for it’s latest, ultra luxury new build, Seven Seas Explorer, will be announced on January 15th, going on sale to the general public in February.

The $450 million ship, currently under construction at the Fincantieri yard in Italy, will enter service in 2016, and will be the first dedicated new build for the line since 2003. She will join her siblings, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, in a fleet that will give Regent three of the only four all suite, all balcony luxury ships in the world.

Like her siblings, the 54,000 ton Explorer will accommodate around 750 guests, representing an approximate forty per cent increase in the line’s current passenger capacity.

And, while actual specifics and hardware are sketchy at the moment, the company is claiming that the ship will feature a ‘museum quality’ range of art works, as well as the highest passenger space ratio of any ship afloat, and also the highest ratio of staff to guests of any ship at sea.

There will be six gourmet restaurants, and some 369 suites, varying between 300 and 1500 square feet in size.

In building, outfitting and running the Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas is setting it’s sights quite firmly on building what it claims will be ‘the world’s most luxurious ship’- quite a statement of intent.

More details will appear here as and when they become available.

As always, stay tuned.

IT’S OFFICIAL: NORWEGIAN TO PURCHASE OCEANIA AND REGENT FOR $3.025 BILLION

Will Regent and Oceania soon join the Norwegian fold?

Will Regent and Oceania soon join the Norwegian fold?

Reports began to surface last night that Norwegian Cruise Line has submitted a three billion dollar bid to buy Prestige Cruises International. Prestige is a very upscale operator, having both upper premium Oceania Cruises and ultra deluxe Regent Seven Seas Cruises in its current portfolio. The talks are stated to be at an ‘advanced stage’.

The hugely ambitious move comes at a time when both of the Prestige flag bearers were on the cusp of far reaching changes in any event. Oceania is said to be on the verge of confirming an order for a second pair of sister ships for its first, highly successful dedicated new builds, Marina and Riviera. Meanwhile, Regent is eagerly awaiting the arrival in 2016 of the new, 700 guest all suite Seven Seas Explorer, its first dedicated new ship since the Seven Seas Voyager back in 2003.

As things stand, the eight ships that comprise the joint Oceania/Regent portfolio will complement the current, thirteen ships (with four more on order) in the Norwegian fleet. This combination will give the seagoing operation an extensive presence right across the mainstream, premium and deluxe cruise brands.

Cynics will no doubt recall how NCL  (as Norwegian then was) underwent a similar, massive expansion in the mid to late 1980’s. Then, the line absorbed both the very upscale Royal Viking Line, immediately followed by the premium grade Royal Cruise Line. 

 

That was soon followed by the acquisition of Orient Lines in 1998.

Then, the company hoped that many mainstream passengers might be persuaded to move up to the more elegant, patrician brands. It ultimately failed, and almost took NCL down with it. The company was on the maritime equivalent of life support for years afterwards.

However, following a hugely successful IPO in January of 2013, Norwegian is in a far better position than it was back in the late eighties. The two newest ships in the fleet- Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway- have been hugely successful, and the recipients of much critical acclaim.

Likely future consort, Oceania, is doing so well that it looks to expand to a seven ship operation within a couple of years, as mentioned above. Meanwhile, Regent Seven Seas continues to be one of the most consistently fully booked of the deluxe cruise lines, partly as a result of having the most truly all inclusive fares in the luxury segment of the market. And Regent is also the only line anywhere that can field a pair of all balcony accommodation sister ships- Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager. Over the last year or so, both of these ships underwent extensive, multi million pound enhancements that put them at a pinnacle of the cruising firmament.

For sure, interesting days are ahead for all of the protagonists in this menage a trois. As ever, stay tuned.

 

SEVEN SEAS MARINER IN THE CARIBBEAN

First up, these photographs are a throwback to 2008, when I cruised the Caribbean on the sublime Seven Seas Mariner.

Recently, the ship underwent a comprehensive interior refurbishment, in line with that carried through on her sister ship, the equally appealing Seven Seas Voyager.

So these pictures capture what is, essentially, a moment in time. But look closer, and they capture so much else as well that is most definitely still there.

The pictures showcase an environment of space, ease and elegance. There are no crowds, no lines for anything. This is no mass market floating city on the briny.

Here, less is more. Less people equals more high quality service. Less numbers to cater for equals more personalised, quite outstanding and creative cuisine.

Less means more room. And much bigger rooms. Every single one with a private balcony.

Leave the tux at home; less dressy equals more casual.

All inclusive means you can close your wallet, and open your mind to the idea of delicious, total indulgence.

And more quality, personal attention, combined with elegant surroundings, equates to less stress.

More low key as an experience, and far less noisy. This cruise turned down the volume, so that you could hear the real mood music properly.

You could hear the rhythm of the rolling sea. A song as old as time, too often lost in the ringing and chirruping of an on board casino.

You could hear the warm breeze, and feel it kiss your face as sunset ghosted across the ocean like a spectacularly lowering theatre curtain.

Music drifting across the terrace; ice cubes tinkling in your sunset Cuba Libre.

Not less, but truly more. What an adventure….

Open pool deck on the Mariner

Open pool deck on the Mariner

With a side order of Caribbean vistas

With a side order of Caribbean vistas

Want mood music? Fine

Want mood music? Fine

Too much a good thing?

Too much a good thing?

Lunch time buffet appetisers

Lunch time buffet appetisers

The good life, Regent style

The good life, Regent style

Live, lovely jazz

Live, lovely jazz

A sign of quality

A sign of quality

The view from my balcony. Priceless

The view from my balcony. Priceless

Keeping it intimate

Keeping it intimate

Night club bar

Night club bar

Central main stairway

Central main stairway

Beautifully styled Regent interiors

Beautifully styled Regent interiors

Looking up at the Atrium

Looking up at the Atrium

Less effort, more elegance

Less effort, more elegance

Entrance lobby on the Mariner

Entrance lobby on the Mariner

Show lounge

Show lounge

Aft terraces are art works, too

Aft terraces are art works, too

BBC. Balcony. Butler. Champagne

BBC. Balcony. Butler. Champagne

Coffee bar. Regent style

Coffee bar. Regent style

MONACO FROM A HOT TUB- PICTORIAL SHOTS

For various reasons, Monte Carlo is one of those places that figure high on the must see lists of many people. It has glitz, glamour, the Grand Prix, and, er….

Anyone who knows me even remotely knows that I am not a fan of the place. To me, it’s a pretentious, hideously over priced place full of preening wannabes; a vastly over rated town where people go to be seen, rather than to actually see anything of note.

There are far prettier places along the amazing, sinuous curve of the French Riviera that have twice the style, and much less of the bombastic hype.

That said, no one can deny that, for all it’s brittle glamour, Monte Carlo is quite a sight.

These shots constitute my favourite views of Monte Carlo. Most were taken from a hot tub aboard Regent Seven Seas’ lavishly appointed flagship, Seven Seas Voyager. Here, armed with nothing more glittery than a camera and a readily refilled champagne glass, I present an offshore take on what remains, for many, a ‘must do’ on the travel map.

Ladies and gentlemen; mesdames et messieurs; I give you- Monte Carlo from a hot tub….

Early morning Monaco...

Early morning Monaco…

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Skyline of Monte Carlo

Looking from ship to shore

Looking from ship to shore

The harbour is truly spectacular

The harbour is truly spectacular

Looking back to the hillsides

Looking back to the hillsides

Yachts in shot...

Yachts in shot…

And more yachts...

And more yachts…

This one is more class than crass

This one is more class than crass

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Quintessential Monaco money shot

Better afternoon light...

Better afternoon light…

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Tender from Voyager heading ashore

Very Sixties architecture here

Very Sixties architecture here

Shore from ship....

Shore from ship….

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sea, sky, and skyscrapers

Sometimes it's just nicer staying on board

Sometimes it’s just nicer staying on board

 

SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER PHOTO ESSAY

Back in October 2013, Regent Seven Seas’ ultra luxury Seven Seas Voyager went into dry dock in Marseilles, France, for a major cosmetic overhaul that involved the complete refurbishing of some public rooms, a complete replacement of the carpets in all public areas, and the replacement of every bit of teak decking on the ship, from the upper decks to every single one of some three hundred and fifty terrace suites.

The result was a lavishly refurbished and energised paragon; one I got to sample literally straight out of the shipyards, on a short run from Rome to Livorno. These pictures form my visual impressions of a ship that has long been an old favourite of mine.

Main entrance lobby on Voyager

Main entrance lobby on Voyager

New pool deck. looking aft

New pool deck. looking aft

Voyager interior shot

Voyager interior shot

Looking down from the staircase

Looking down from the staircase

Voyager; space and grace in perfect symmetry

Voyager; space and grace in perfect symmetry

Sumptuous new furnishings are evreywhere

Sumptuous new furnishings are everywhere

The staircases form an elegant focal point

The staircases form an elegant focal point

The craftsmanship everywhere is outstanding

The craftsmanship everywhere is outstanding

Small, intimate seating areas flank the passageways

Intimate seating areas flank passageways

The aft Panorama Lounge

The aft Panorama Lounge

Panorama Lounge aft terrace

Panorama Lounge aft terrace

Pool and hot tubs

Pool and hot tubs

Funnel, looking aft on port side

Funnel, looking aft on port side

Afternoon snacks?

Afternoon snacks?

One of those newly refurbished balconies

One of those newly refurbished balconies

Another main staircase angle

Another main staircase angle

Looking up from lobby to the top level

Looking up from lobby to the top level

Sweet treats are everywhere on Voyager

Sweet treats are everywhere on Voyager

IT WASN’T ALL BAD: MY MARITIME HIGHLIGHTS OF 2013

The classics are back, courtesy of Portuscale Cruises

The classics are back, courtesy of Portuscale Cruises

In my previous post, I wrote about the string of maritime casualties that have begun piling up like so many car wrecks over 2013, from the plain sad to the simply absurd. Thankfully, that has not been the whole picture for the cruise industry during the course of the year. There have indeed been a number of outstanding events, and some cracking new ships have arrived. Here’s some of my personal highlights.

Firstly, the Lazarus style resurrection of Portuscale Cruises from the wreckage of Classic International Cruises will have warmed the hearts of anyone that appreciates the simple pleasures of classical, well run ships. There has been no more resolute-or miraculous-statement of intent than the return to service of the flagship, the doughty, dignified little Funchal. And, with the rest of the fleet on course for a 2014 relaunch, the outlook is very promising.

Big ship of the year was unquestionably the stunning new Norwegian Breakaway, the Peter Max mentored floating tribute to New York style that debuted at the end of April. Brimming with life, and beautifully styled by Tillberg Design’s Fredrik Johansson throughout, Breakaway brings a whole host of outdoor eateries and bars to the balmy Bermuda run. With cutting edge entertainment and an easy, freewheeling vibe, this ship ups the ante for the contemporary mega ship experience by a long mile.

Stylish Regent has something new coming soon

Stylish Regent has something new coming soon

The announcement of a new ship for Regent Seven Seas is very exciting, and way overdue, too. Seven Seas Explorer will build on the obvious success and sumptuous style of her well established trio of upmarket siblings. And I had a delightful preview of the new ship, with some of her soon-to-be signature elements showcased aboard Seven Seas Voyager after a $25 million, bow to stern refurbishment. The whole look is more open and vibrant, with fresh carpeting and new artwork everywhere, while the new, cushioned comfy chairs on the balconies make them sublimely relaxing little enclaves.

The start up of new, traditionally styled Viking Ocean Cruises is a real, refreshing example of a new cruise line, actually listening to, and acting on, the ideas of potential passengers. With an identical quartet of traditionally styled , 47,000 ton siblings coming on line from 2015 onwards, there’s a firm emphasis on elegance rather than excess, and more than just an echo of those sybaritic Royal Viking Line stalwarts of the past. Certainly one that bears watching, for sure.

But, without doubt, the highlight of 2013 has been the debut of the sensational, stand alone Europa 2. With balconies for every single room- and even the smallest of those half as large again as on her nearest rival- this brilliant, uber-elegant new ship is designed to appeal to families of all ages, with many inter- connecting suites. Internally, the decor is sharp, linear and bright; a true ‘grand hotel’ on the ocean that offers no less than eight sumptuous, open seating restaurants for a maximum of 516 guests.

Pool area on the Europa 2

Pool area on the Europa 2

Owners Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines have created what is, quite simply, the most diverse and dramatic luxury ship afloat. From her indoor/outdoor nightclub to her central pool with its sliding glass dome, the Europa 2 feels like as much of a clean break with traditional maritime luxe as did the Normandie back in the thirties. Time and tide might prove her to be every bit as epochal.

So, no, it’s not all doom and gloom out there. While there’s not yet as much diversity across the cruising spectrum as there once was, those ships that are emerging are more chock full of delightful innovations than anything that has preceded them before. At the same time, a slowly growing realisation is gathering pace that the industry per se is not a one size fits all shop. Lines are responding to demand, and that can only be good for all concerned.

As ever, stay tuned.

A TRIO OF SWELLS; EUROPA 2, SILVER WHISPER AND SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER

Pool area on the Europa 2

Pool area on the Europa 2

2013 has been a bit of a banner year for luxurious, albeit brief opportunities to look at a spectacular, highly styled trio of luxury cruise icons- Europa 2, Silver Whisper and Seven Seas Voyager, in order of encounter. With a bit of time to reflect on this true trio of swells, here’s a few observations I harboured in respect of each.

To my mind, Europa 2 is much more aimed toward those who usually take time out in high end, luxury resorts and hotels, rather than on traditional cruise ships. The ship offers a phenomenal eight dining venues for a maximum of 516 guests, and sublime, beautifully sculpted, modern hotel style interiors. The suites all come with commodious, lavishly furnished balconies and- unlike the other two ladies in this piece- Europa 2 is not a truly all inclusive experience. Hapag Lloyd Cruise Lines are adamant that this policy would not change, but so were both Regent and Crystal in the past.

The real change in emphasis is the child friendly nature of this stunning new ship, with interconnecting suites for families, and no less than six nannies on hand to look after the little ones. On our cruise, we saw virtually nothing of the fifty children that we knew to be on board. And, with a smart casual dress code throughout, Europa 2 neatly side steps one of traditional cruisings most oft perceived bugbears.

Silver Whisper is, without doubt, one of the finest ships afloat anywhere, and the service and ambience on board is right up there with the Adlon and the Ritz. As a product, Silversea continues to emphasise it’s Italian heritage and fine, European style of service.

But there are changes; the dress code is no longer quite so formal as it once was, although passengers still dress very smartly for dinner. The entertainment menu has been rethought, with much more intimate performances where the singers and dancers interact, singing, dancing and chatting to the passengers.

On board the Silver Whisper

On board the Silver Whisper

The Italian heritage is most apparent in the evening emphasis towards Mediterranean style dining, and the Hot Rocks alfresco dining venues, where guests can barbecue their own steaks or chops, is a fun, interactive venue unique to Silversea.

Like her fleetmates, Silver Whisper remains a largely all inclusive product. The line still offers stylish, intimate touches, such as welcome mimosas, canapes and live jazz on deck on our recent arrival in Tallinn. Almost a full decade after it’s inception, Silversea remains a paragon, very much a premier exemplar of stylish, seagoing panache.

Now, Voyager. Newly renovated with a sweeping, $25 million eight day dry docking in Marseille, the ship now showcases areas intended to presage the forthcoming Seven Seas Explorer.

Stunning new, eggshell white seating and gorgeous, beautifully etched new light fittings adorn the Observation and Horizon lounges. New carpeting is featured right through the ship, and all teak decking- including that on all of the 350 balcony suites- has been replaced.

Those same balconies now boast funky, commodious new, resort style seating, as do the terrace decks at the stern. New artwork right throughout the ship is outstanding and, in terms of entertainment, no less than eight new production shows are almost ready for ‘curtain up’.

Style wise, Regent has always had a smart casual dress code and, with all shore excursions included right throughout the cruise, it is unquestionably the most all inclusive, value loaded of the three products mentioned here.

New outdoor terrace furniture on the Seven Seas Voyager

New outdoor terrace furniture on the Seven Seas Voyager

All things considered, these three ships represent some of the most fabulous and self indulgent travel experiences afloat anywhere today. It is safe to say that any of these ships will offer you an incredible travel adventure, long before you even consider the idea of stepping ashore.

Such differences as there are lie in terms of some of the things noted above. All have space, grace, and are suffused by a sense of calm, casual ease. For lovers on the luxury cruising lifestyle, the industry as a whole has never been so deliciously diverse.

THE NEW LOOK SEVEN SEAS VOYAGER

New look Observation Lounge, Seven Seas Voyager

New look Observation Lounge, Seven Seas Voyager

Regent Seven Seas unveiled the exquisitely refurbished Seven Seas Voyager to media from several European countries on the opening leg of her first post dry dock cruise last week. Following an eight day, $25 million makeover in Marseille, the 42,000 ton Voyager dead headed overnight to Rome’s port of Civitavecchia to embark a capacity load of seven hundred passengers for a ten night cruise to Venice.

Prior to sailing, Regent/Oceania CEO Frank Del Rio invited a small group of UK media to an informal Q and A to discuss the refurbishment, as well as the forthcoming new build- Seven Seas Explorer- due to debut in 2016. While remaining deliberately coy about many of the features of the new ship, Del Rio did venture the information that the ship would have an additional restaurant compared to fleet mates Voyager and Mariner. The as yet nameless venue will be Asian themed and- like all Regent dining options- will be reservations only, but at no surcharge,

Elsewhere, the new ship will feature a single exclusive signature suite. the work of an as yet unannounced top designer. And Del Rio also noted that many of the new furnishings, decor and artwork showcased aboard Voyager will be a precursor for the new ship, as well as a blueprint for Mariner, due for an overhaul in March, 2014.

New outdoor terrace furniture

New outdoor terrace furniture

As for Voyager herself, a thousand workmen laboured for eight days and nights to totally transform the Observation and Horizon lounges with new lighting, much more commodious soft furnishings, fresh carpeting, and brand new bar installations. New carpeting was laid right throughout all the public areas on Seven Seas Voyager, and a whole new range of artwork is now showcased throughout.

Plush, new resort style furnishings were added to the outer deck terraces, and all teak decking- including that on all 350 suite balconies- was replaced. And all of those balconies received plush, funky new balcony furnishings that can safely be described as a real hazard to activity of any sort.

While the new work has revitalised and energised this beautiful ship no end, it was also reassuring to find that many much familiar, fondly remembered highlights remain intact. The eight storey atrium lobby, with its sweeping staircases accented in brass, glass and marble highlights, is still one of the most glorious public spaces of any ship afloat. And the aft terrace of La Veranda still remains of of the most exalted indoor and outdoor dining experiences afloat.

On board dining was well up to the Escoffier style levels of old. A ten ounce tranche of kobe beef I sampled in the Prime 7 Steakhouse was so tender that it literally crumbled on contact with the cutlery. And there are few other places where you can enjoy steak and champagne for an outdoor breakfast, with the stunning Monaco skyline as a backdrop.

Kobe beef table art in Prime 7

Kobe beef table art in Prime 7

Elsewhere, legendary producer and entertainment guru Jean Ann Ryan was on board to exclusively reveal the details of no less than eight new shows in production, exclusively for Regent. The obvious aim here is to give the already extensive entertainment roster across the fleet a whole new level of creative momentum and scope.

Sister ship, Seven Seas Mariner is due to receive the same upgrades next spring, following her South America season of cruises this coming winter. In an all too rare moment, Voyager and Mariner were both in Monte Carlo together on October 24th; Mariner was at the dock while Voyager tendered people back and forth to the same quay all day.

Overall impressions? This is elegance refreshed, excellence redefined. I’m still not sure about the new blue stripe along the hull, but there’s no questioning the imagination, care, quality and craftsmanship that has gone in to revitalising the Seven Seas Voyager for her tenth anniversary. Very highly recommended for sure.