The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008. She now sails for Star Cruises as their Superstar Gemini. In that role, she will be returning to the Mediterranean in 2016.



In a brief, but very to the point press release addressed to Cruise Industry News ( Genting Hong Kong, the parent company of Star Cruises, has stated that there will be no deployment by Star Cruises in the Mediterranean next year. The release reads thus;

Be informed there are currently no plans for Star Cruises to deploy a ship in the Mediterranean Sea next year.”

The Cruise Industry News blog goes on to attest that the story actually first surfaced via Italian news and media outlets.

For my original blog on the same story, please see below……

For the first time in more than a decade, Star Cruises will be offering an as yet unannounced series of Mediterranean fly cruises over the summer of 2016.

Star Cruises last attempted a similar, one off season more than a decade ago with the Superstar Libra, an unusual move at the time which has never been repeated since- until now.

The line will be sending the 50,000 ton, 1, 530 passenger Superstar Gemini to Genoa next summer. The vessel is perhaps best remembered as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dream.

Built at the French shipyard of Saint Nazaire as the Dreamward in 1992, she was lengthened and renamed as Norwegian Dream in 1998. She was in many ways a pioneering ship for Norwegian, operating their first ever regular season of summer Scandinavia cruises from the UK. The ship was also a popular staple for many years on the summer run to Bermuda from the east coast of the USA.

In 1999, her bow had to be completely rebuilt after she collided in the English Channel in a thick fog with a container ship, the Ever Decent.

Later, the Norwegian Dream went on to pioneer new NCL routes around South America, before leaving the line for an intended 2008 sale to Louis Cruise Lines.

This fell through over alleged mechanical issues, and the unwanted ship spent almost five damaging years laid up at ports around the Greek islands, before parent company Star Cruises took her over a few years ago.

Refurbished and restyled as the Superstar Gemini, she has since sailed on a series of short, highly successful cruises from Singapore and other Far Eastern ports. Her bruited return to Europe in 2016 comes as something of a surprise to many, this writer included.

There are those who feel that the local Asian market is currently over capacity. And, with newer, even larger ships coming on line, perhaps Star Cruises- the current scion of mass market Far East voyages- has decided that now might well be the time to ‘test the water’ in other regions.

In any event, it will be nice to see this popular, fondly remembered ship back on the European circuit in 2016. I await her actual itineraries with interest.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.


Imagine being able to glide right up to the wreck of the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, as she lies sprawled like some great, fallen beast on the bottom of the Aegean. Getting up close and personal to her giant, thirty eight ton propellers; almost close enough to touch them, in fact.

Imagine cruising around the nine hundred foot long hospital ship as she looms over your small, two man submarine like some ancient, felled building.

Sounds like something straight out of the pages of a James Bond novel, right?

But soon, thanks to the newly wrought Crystal Yacht Cruises, this kind of experience could be one of the items on the menu for the sixty-two privileged guests of the soon to be commissioned new luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit.

The Crystal Esprit will carry a small, two passenger submarine on board for expedition dives on each of its voyages; a truly remarkable first for any line. And, while the circumnavigation of the Britannic, outlined above, is not an advertised activity offered on the yacht, it does serve to illustrate the sheer range of undersea possibilities that Crystal can add to complement it’s ‘wonderful world’ of adventures on the surface.

Currently being converted from the platform of the luxury yacht, Megastar Taurus at the Sembawang shipyard in Singapore, the Crystal Esprit will take highly styled, mega yacht cruising to new heights. And, on an adventurous level at least, to new depths as well.

Due to debut this winter with a maiden season in the Seychelles and Dubai, the Crystal Esprit will move to the Aegean and Croatian Riviera for the summer of 2016.

For those sybaritic souls in search of true, all inclusive style in a very intimate atmosphere, the Crystal Esprit will offer the best of all worlds, and comes complete with the all inclusive fares, together with the superlative service and cuisine that the Crystal brand is synonymous with.

At just 3,300 tons and with a capacity for sixty-two guests, the yacht will feature sumptuous, all suite accommodation, both indoor and outdoor restaurants, as well as some very expensively primped outdoor maritime real estate; think plush sofas, pod beds, and the sort of poolside service you would expect to get at a really top notch Ritz Carlton hotel- but without the bill.

In addition to the submarine already mentioned, the Crystal Esprit will also offer the use of four, ten passenger Zodiacs for exclusive adventures ashore, as well as a one off, 12 passenger, 32 metre long yacht, built by Winder, for out of this world meandering around the islets and waterways where the ship sails.

If you’re not quite ready for the level of playing Captain Nemo, there will be a whole raft of less tech-intensive ‘water toys’ available for use from the yacht. These include jet skis and wake boards, and there are also options such as scuba diving, water ski-ing, or even just fishing.

Crystal Esprit has been cruising as a deluxe yacht for Star Cruises, ever since the company acquired her in 1994. She was originally built in Germany for the long defunct Windsor Line as the Lady Sarah, back in 1991.

As things stand, the yacht has a maximum capacity for eighty passengers, which Crystal intends to pare down to sixty two. Public rooms and accommodations are spread over some four decks in all.

This hip, beautifully styled little adventurer raises the bar yet again on small ship cruising. And, for those really wanting to play at being James Bond in an amazing underwater world, there is also the welcome assurance that, this being Crystal, the Martinis served up topside will be superb as well.

Quite the fascinating premise, this one. As ever, stay tuned for further news.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.

Sail the best of the balmy Aegean on a stunning Crystal Yacht cruises adventure from 2016.


Paul Gauguin cruises the waters of French Polynesia

Paul Gauguin cruises the waters of French Polynesia

Singapore dockyard is the chosen venue for a current ongoing refit of the boutique M/S Paul Gauguin.

The 19,000 ton luxury ship has cruised exclusively in the waters around French Polynesia and the South Pacific since being delivered to her owners from the former Chantiers shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France, back in 1998.

Managed for many years by Radisson Seven Seas in its pre- Regent days, the Paul Gauguin quickly acquired a reputation for ultra luxurious cruising and an elegant, intimate.on board ambiance. Not surprisingly, the Paul Gauguin soon became very popular with honeymooners, providing a cost effective, all inclusive way to see that highlights of one of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world.

Highlights of the ongoing current refit include:

* The restoration of all teak decking on Pool Deck, plus all new umbrellas for shade.

* All chairs in La Palette lounge and the L’ Etoile restaurant have been completely reupholstered.

* All cabin balconies have been furnished with new tables and chairs.

* All new chairs in the Internet Cafe.

* Polishing of all in suite and stateroom furniture.

* Refurbishment of the stage in Le Grand Salon.

* A comprehensive overhaul of the on board sound system.

* Some steel work, plus overall hull repainting.

The company was a one ship operation for many years, but now also operates the yacht style Tere Moana- formerly Le Levant of Ponant Cruises –on a series of itineraries in the Mediterranean and Caribbean.


Some cruise lines now overnight in captivating Quebec

Some cruise lines now overnight in captivating Quebec

There was a time when the idea of keeping cruise ships in port overnight was absolute anathema to cruise ship owners. It meant the payment of more excessive docking fees to the local authorities, and there was always the potential revenue loss involved in passengers dining and partying ashore at nights. It was a double whammy that some lines fight tooth and nail to avoid for decades.

But there were some ports that offer such a wealth of attractions that a simple day time visit was nowhere near enough time to really see all the sights. Saint Petersburg, Hong Kong and Singapore were among an initial handful of ‘trophy ports’ where the lines were obliged to simply bite the bullet, and stay overnight. In the case of Saint Petersburg, the more deluxe lines can stay for up to three nights in succession.

As time has moved on and more new ships have come online, cruise lines have been looking to diversify right across the board. And some of the feedback indicated quite strongly that more and more passengers were in favour of more overnight stays on a cruise, especially in regions like the Mediterranean. Following the potential money trail, the lines had little choice but to play ball.

But as time went on, those same lines came to realise that certain economies of scale accrue from overnight stays. Port fees were often countered by the amount of fuel saved in being tied up at dock, and some shore excursions could even be run and sold  during the evening. And the chance of a welcome run ashore at the end of a busy working day was also a valuable morale booster for ship crews as well.  As long as a reasonable balance could be struck between these pros and cons, overnight stays could be made to work for all concerned.

Venice is a popular and compelling overnight stay

Venice is a popular and compelling overnight stay

A classic example has just been seen in the dropping by the Bermuda government of its age old ban on cruise ship casinos being open in ports. These are obviously a big source of revenue for the cruise lines, and Bermuda’s insistence that they remain closed certainly hurt the island’s cruise trade.

In the Far East, more erudite operations such as Voyages to Antiquity offer many overnight stays, including up to three nights in such fabled ports as Yangon. Saigon has evolved into a very popular overnight destination while, back in the Mediterranean, companies such as Azamara and Crystal now offer overnight stays in such idyllic spots as Sorrento. Kusadasi, Barcelona and even Monte Carlo.

For passengers, overnight calls allow for the possibility to see a destination in greater depth, and at a far more leisurely pace than that allowed by a typical ‘nine to five’ daylight stay. The possibility of being able to dine ashore at night builds in far more options- and therefore value- for potential passengers. Managed and promoted properly, cruise lines will, in future, find overnight stays to be far more of a positive benefit than an awkward accommodation. I expect to see many more in the future.


Star Cruises ships are suffused with a rich, oriental decor

Star Cruises ships are suffused with a rich, oriental decor

More details are slowly seeping out about the new ship ordered by Star Cruises for it’s Asian cruise market. The company- owned and financed by Genting- came to an agreement with Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg late last week.

The new ship will be in the region of 150,000 tons, making her by far the largest vessel to be employed in the year round domestic Asian cruise market. That makes her almost twice the size of the current Star Cruises flagship, the Superstar Virgo.

Due for delivery in late 2016, the as yet un-named new ship will cost in the region of 700 million euros, and boast sixteen hundred cabins over a range of some eighteen decks. 4500 passengers will be looked after by a crew of 2000. She will feature no less than thirty three restaurants, bars and cafes, featuring a huge variety of on board freestyle dining options.

There will be a huge emphasis on outdoor water sports and recreational areas, as well as a dedicated retail area of more than a thousand square metres.

Star Cruises is currently an operation concentrated on a string of Asian hubs such as Singapore, Taiwan and Port Kelang. The current fleet is built around the aforementioned Superstar Virgo and a trio of former Norwegian Cruise Line stalwarts- Superstar Aquarius, Superstar Libra, and the recently recommissioned Superstar Gemini.

After years of having the Far East market more or less to itself, Star Cruises has seen increased competition in recent years from companies such as Costa, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America and Royal Caribbean. Initial forays by all these lines have been followed by the deployment of increasingly larger, more amenity laden tonnage. Though not all of these deployments are year round, there is no doubt that they have impacted significantly on the local market that was traditionally the preserve of Star Cruises.

Pool deck on Star Cruises

Pool deck on Star Cruises

The construction of the new ship represents the throwing down of a very hefty gauntlet to the opposition by Star Cruises. She also has the advantage of being built from the start to cater to the Asian market, rather than being adapted from what was essentially an American accented build.

New docking facilities now open throughout the Far East, such as the prestigious new cruise terminal in Singapore, have also fuelled a whole raft of additional itineraries for the company to consider. When the new ship comes on stream, it is likely that the older, smaller ships will be used as pathfinders to trial these potential new itineraries.

Stay tuned for further details on this exciting new ship.


This famous bow will soon be cutting salt water one more time

This famous bow will soon be cutting salt water one more time

Tomorrow will see the official announcement of the name of the yard chosen to convert the iconic QE2 into a floating hotel. These are the words of Daniel Chui, a gentleman described as chief executive of the Oceanic Group, the company that now holds the deeds to the famous former Cunard flagship.

After five years of humiliating lay ups, stop start attempts at conversion and enforced idleness, the QE2 is finally being readied for an October 18th departure from Dubai for the shipyard in question.

Chui has described the conversion of the ship into a 450 room hotel in terms such as ‘historic’. Room sizes will range from sixty to one hundred and fifty square metres, with the emphasis being mainly on British, Classic, Continental and neo- modern designs, whatever that is supposed to mean. Sounds like a pretty uninspired mish mash, to be quite honest.

What is surprising is the news that the 1969 built cruise liner will embark on a ninety day tour of ‘various Asian ports’ next year to showcase her new look. It is not clear whether the company envisages carrying guests in transit or not, but this part of the announcement- a kind of ‘greatest hits’ tour of the region by the long dormant liner- is really fascinating.

Something like $100 million has been set aside for the conversion project; roughly the same amount as it cost to convert the QE2 from steam to diesel electric propulsion during her epic, six month 1986-87 rebuild. Chui says that the cost of undertaking the same work in a European shipyard would probably have been around fifty per cent more expensive.

Some seven different designers were invited to tender for the conversion project, and Oceanic says that all of these proposals will be put online for public viewing, following the official announcement in Shanghai tomorrow.

The QE2 was retired to Dubai, with ambitious plans for conversion into a hotel, in November 2008. The economic slump that followed led to the project stalling almost at the first fence. An attempt to sail the ship to Cape Town for use as a floating hotel for the 2010 FIFA World Cup was nixed at almost the last minute, ostensibly by South African hoteliers.

Let's hope her future is as bright as this shot of her

Let’s hope her future is as bright as this shot of her

What followed was a smoke screen of clumsy PR and an almost cavalier lack of consideration in keeping interested parties informed as to the situation of the ship. This was compounded by apparent in flighting and political machinations among the Dubai based bigwigs holding the ship hostage. As a result, rumours spread like forest fires and, when press releases were grudgingly put out, they were often read with disbelief and sometimes even outright disdain.

An announcement tomorrow will at least put an end to the speculation, if not the foreboding that exists in the minds of many. While the smart money still has the QE2 eventually being permanently homeported in either Hong Kong or Singapore, there are still questions that need answering. Chief among which is the status of the refurbished ship; will she be a hotel or a still active ship?

As with many other things in the long, drawn out saga of the QE2 and her afterlife, the actual answers are anything but clear. I’m hoping that tomorrow’s announcement will lift some of the fog surrounding this iconic, still much loved, legendary ship.

As ever, stay tuned. And fingers crossed, please.



Today, QE2 Holdings officially announced that the QE2 will be refurbished at the COSCO shipyard located in Zhoushan, in Southern China.

All seven submissions for new interior designs should be online, and will remain so until November 15th, when the one that secures most votes will be the winner.

QE2 is still at the moment scheduled for an October 18th departure from her five year lay up in Dubai.

Stay tuned for further -hopefully happy- developments.



Crystal Symphony offers one of the best lecture programmes afloat anywhere

Crystal Symphony offers one of the best lecture programmes afloat anywhere

Some people think they know it all once they have graduated. They are possessed of a seemingly unshakeable sense of faith in their own infallibility, knowledge and decisions. I’ve always pitied such people profoundly.

My take on life is- and always will be- that you keep on learning from cradle to grave. Life itself is a continuous, ongoing lesson. And if you’re asleep at the back of the class, the only person that’s truly losing out is you, I’m afraid.

And one of the best places for learning is, without doubt, on a cruise or long ocean crossing. Here’s why;

You’ll generally meet an incredible cross section of people with a whole wealth of different backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles, and life experiences. Taking the time to sit back and listen to others is a wise investment of that precious resource of time.

You might not always agree, approve. or even fully understand what they tell you. Sometimes you might be shocked, and on occasions even downright appalled. But that’s not the point.

The point is that everything you learn is like a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of life. Not every bit fits perfectly. Not every bit is meant to.

I find it fascinating to just sit and listen to people as they open up about their lives, their experiences- good and bad- and the way that those events shaped and moulded them into (hopefully) rational, well rounded human beings. if you can’t learn from the past, there’s precious little hope for the future.

See the haunting ANZAC War Graves at Gallipoli

See the haunting ANZAC War Graves at Gallipoli

No two people ever have exactly the same take, even on the same event. But cruising as an educator and enabler? You bet.

And, of course, there are cruise lines out there whose entire raison d’etre is to inform and increase our knowledge of the world around us, past and present. Lines such as Voyages to Antiquity, Voyages of Discovery and, of course, the venerable institution that is Swan Hellenic.

These are the sort of lines that eschew Las Vegas style floorshows in favour of high quality, extremely well qualified lecturers on subjects as diverse as the ancient world, military and socio-economic history, pre and post war politics, and even religion as well. All of these lines tailor their programmes to specific parts of the world that they happen to be cruising in at the time.

For instance, a recent Voyages to Antiquity cruise that I did in the Far East had a distinguished former Australian army officer, lecturing on the fall of Singapore and the battles along the infamous Kokoda Trail. Being in these same waters brought his insights to life with an immediacy- and a poignant sense of clarity- like nothing I have ever experienced.

It should go without saying that those cruises are more for the types intent on feeding their minds, rather than ravaging the midnight buffet (assuming you can still find a ship that serves one, that is). Think cerebral caviar, rather than round the clock pizza, and you get the gist.

Many of the more upscale lines, such as Crystal, Regent and Silversea, generally feature an excellent roster of on board speakers and lecturers, with details listed in advance on their respective web sites. This is a big help when it comes to planning and perusing for the topics and areas that interest you the most. And these are regularly updated, too.

The excellent Aegean Odyssey returns to the Far East in 2014

The excellent Aegean Odyssey returns to the Far East in 2014

There are also cruises that bring you up close and personal to nature; bird watching cruises, Arctic expeditions, and even voyages to view the surreal splendour of the Northern Lights.

But in the end, you’ll learn as much about life- and humanity in general- from the people all around you. How they speak; how they behave- or don’t.

It’s an endlessly fascinating dance. And, best of all, it comes free with the price of the ticket. Have fun out there.

NOT NOW, VOYAGER… updated 12/2/14

Sunset on the horizon for Costa Voyager

12 February 2014 update: It now appears as if the Costa Voyager has been sold to Chinese interests, as part of a new start up cruise line.

17 November 2013 update: Costa Cruises has now confirmed that the Costa Voyager is, indeed, for sale, and the Costa NeoRiviera will operate week long cruises from Dubai. The sale or lay up of the bruited second ship has not been elaborated upon at present.

Update: Costa cruises have officially denied the impending sale of the Costa Voyager. The current website lists cruises for the ship, under the Costa banner, through until April of 2015. Stay tuned.

It seems very much like a case of not now, Voyager.

After only a couple of seasons, Costa is bidding arrivederci to it’s sole baby cub, the 28.000 ton Costa Voyager. The line has just announced that the ship will leave the Costa fleet next year, and will be sent to Singapore to ‘await a buyer’- a euphemistic phrase if ever there was one.

The abrupt demise of this beautiful little ship can be traced directly to the implosion of the winter Red Sea cruise market. In common with almost everybody else, Costa scuttled the programme of seven night Red Sea cruises due to be operated by Voyager as a direct result of flaring, unpredictable tensions surging through the entire Middle Eastern region.

Costa cancelled the programme a month or two ago now, and said that an alternative series of deployments for the 2000-built ship would be announced in due course. These, of course, never materialised.

Instead, Costa is taking possession of the larger Grand Mistral from fellow Carnival cohort, Iberocruceros. Ironically, this vessel is the twin sister of the MSC Lirica, the ship that the other big Italian company had positioned in the Red Sea up against Voyager. Now Lirica has been repositioned to the Canaries after her own Red Sea cruises were scuppered. I fully expected Costa Voyager to follow her westward. Clearly, Carnival had other ideas.

Grand Mistral will be renamed as Costa Neoriviera- itself a nice nod to one of the great Costa success stories, prior to the Carnival buyout. Even so, she is almost twice the tonnage of the ship she is replacing.

Costa Voyager was originally built as the Olympic Voyager for long since defunct Greek cruise line, Epirotiki. With a capacity for 836 passengers, she and her twin sister ship, Olympic Explorer, were famed for their very fast top speed of around twenty eight knots, which allowed them to offer very comprehensive, week long itineraries from Piraeus.

The Voyager will hopefully find profitable future employment; at only twelve years of age, she still has plenty of mileage but- on the other hand- this is hardly the size of ship that people are looking at these days. Constructed by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg, she was ironically part of the Iberocruceros fleet herself for a few years,

Still, her demise leaves Costa once again woefully bereft of a more personalised, appealing alternative to the mega ships which have become increasingly the mainstay of the Italian juggernaut.


On the move. And soon....

On the move. And soon….

These are uncertain days for QE2. Storm clouds hang over the hallowed ocean liner once again as she gradually prepares for an October 18th departure to some as yet undisclosed Chinese shipyard, allegedly for ‘conversion’ into a three hundred suite luxury hotel.

The voyage will apparently take her via Singapore and Hong Kong. Seven of her nine diesels are now said to be in working order, and she will indeed make the voyage under her own power.

Of course, the great unknown is: what actually happens when she gets there, as opposed to the very terse amount of information actually being eked out by the owners. Ever since her Dubai landfall in November of 2008, her new owners have proved extremely reluctant to engage with the outside world regarding her future. Their few attempts to do so were so clumsy and ham fisted that I thought they had been written by Kim Jong Il’s PR team.

The result has been a disconnect; a deepening chasm of distrust between the millions of loyal fans that this legendary liner still has, and the owners, who see that what they do with her as being their business alone. They paid for her; they own her. We- the people who invested time, faith, toil, and an incalculable amount of emotional currency in her- should just sit back and trust.

The owners are dealing with QE2 as simply a hard headed business proposition. But for those of us who really know the ship (and her owners clearly don’t) the perspective is very different. It is a perspective seen through the prism of our own memories and experiences of the QE2 as a living, breathing entity. To us, she was- and is- a vital, elemental life force, to be revered and treated with dignity and respect.

To her owners, I suspect that she is just another trophy. A glittering bauble that can be embellished or tossed aside on a whim.

These two contrasting views collide, spark and grate like tectonic plates. They are close, but hardly compatible. They have mutual areas of interest. But mutual areas of concern? I doubt it.

To get the best out of QE2- and to allow her to shine- you first have to know and understand her. That involves putting away the calculators, the flip charts and the profit forecasts, and actually spending time on the ship. Letting her get into your soul. Sensing her moods, her mystery and her ageless sense of star presence. Not just seeing her as a balance sheet; but actually letting her in.

To those of us who know and love her, this is anything but rocket science. Of course, it means surrendering a little bit of cold hearted logic up and just going with the flow. But, in the end, wasn’t THAT what she was all about?

After all, what was ‘logical’ in spending five days at sea, on the most notorious ocean in the world, when you could fly across that same ocean in eight hours, eh? And yet…. those of us that have lived that fabulous adventure know, full well, that the experience went way beyond any hard faced, rational decision. It worked, on some soul deep level that no computer or financial accountant could ever put a true value on.

I, like many others, can only hope for the best while being prepared for the worst. Over it all hangs the ghastly spectre of the funeral pyre of the old Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour. if our concerns are perhaps over the top, verging on paranoia in some cases, then I would argue that they are, at least, understandable.

This famous bow will soon be cutting salt water one more time

This famous bow will soon be cutting salt water one more time

If I could offer one consolation to all of us who continue to care for and cherish the QE2, it is this. While the Dubai owners may possess her body, and have it at their disposal, I think that a little bit of her soul- her true, undying essence- lives on in each of us that cares so dearly what becomes of her.

No welder’s torch can ever tear apart our memories. They can never take away the smiles that drift across our faces when we remember the countless, cherished good times enjoyed on board her.

They may have her all right, but so much more of her lives on in all of us. No matter what happens- and let’s keep some optimism alive here, folks- we are the soul of the ship; the guardians of her memory. You. Me. Passengers. Crew. Every last damned one of us.

The biggest cheque book on the planet cannot begin to approximate the true value of that. Good luck to our great lady of the seas. Speed, bonny boat. Like a bird on a wing…