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

RISING SUN; NORWEGIAN STALWART GETS SOME STUNNING NEW 2015 ITINERARIES

The Norwegian Sun at St. Thomas, USVI

The Norwegian Sun at St. Thomas, USVI

Tucked away in the Norwegian Cruise Line press release for 2015-16 winter cruises were some truly different, off the beaten track options for the stalwart, still highly popular Norwegian Sun.

Introduced in September 2001, Norwegian Sun was the first of the company’s ships especially built to showcase the Freestyle Dining concept which has since became the Norwegian touchstone.

The 78,000 ton vessel- one of the most beautiful ships afloat anywhere- was initially based in the Caribbean, before several Alaska seasons, and even some South America sailings, before Norwegian deployed her for a few summer seasons in Northern Europe.

In recent years, she has returned to her original home port of Miami, alternating winter Caribbean cruises with summer voyages in Alaska. As of now, she is scheduled to move to Tampa this autumn.

In October 2015, the Norwegian Sun will relocate to San Diego for the first of three, eleven  night round trip cruises to the Mexican Riviera. Highlights of these will include an overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas; other ports visited will include Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, La Paz, and Ensenada.

But the real highlight of the programme is the return of Norwegian Sun to fourteen night, round South America cruises. Running in both directions between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso, Chile, these cruises will sail from November 2015 through to April of 2016.

Ports of call will include Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacabuco, Port Stanley in the Falklands, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn, and Uruguay’s show stopping capital of Montevideo. En route , passengers can savour the scenic delights of the Chilean Fords and the Straits Of Magellan, as well as the famous voyage around Cape Horn.

These South America runs mark the return of Norwegian to the region for the first time since 2010, when Norwegian Sun herself closed out a seasonal run offered for many years by both Norwegian Dream (now Superstar Gemini) and Norwegian Crown (now Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral).

With scenery at least comparable in terms of scale, scope and beauty to Norway, not to mention infinitely more settled and benign weather, these forays into the Chilean Fjords offer some of the best, most destination intensive cruises available in the Southern Hemisphere. Add in the option of spending a few days, pre or post cruise in sultry Buenos Aires, and the appeal of these trips is obvious.

As companies such as Costa, MSC and Royal Caribbean continue to enjoy success with seasonal, week long South America cruises that take in the highlights of Brazil and Argentina, it seems only a matter of time until Norwegian follows suit. But, for now, the return of Norwegian Sun to round the Cape cruises provides a welcome burst of colour to an oft neglected region.

HEY BIG SPLENDOR- CARNIVAL BIDS ADIOS TO NEW YORK

It's goodbye to New York for Carnival Splendor

It’s goodbye to New York for Carnival Splendor

Carnival Cruise Lines has announced that their dedicated, year round New York based ship, Carnival Splendor, will be leaving the city to be redeployed from Miami, effective November 9th 2014.

The 113,000 ton, 3,006 passenger Splendor has spent a few seasons in year round sailings from New York, mainly to the Bahamas. There is usually at least one Bermuda cruise per season, pencilled in for June next year.

As of yet, no replacement vessel has been announced, but it is unlikely that Carnival will leave the lucrative, year round north east trade solely to rivals Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Carnival Splendor was built by Fincantieri in Italy, and made her debut in 2008 as a one off, stand alone ship, the only one of her kind in the Carnival fleet. She spent her first months cruising in Europe, before making a headline grabbing cruise around South America, prior to an eventual arrival in her home port of Los Angeles.

From there, the ship made an inaugural, five day run down to Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas (I was aboard) before settling in to the week long circuit down to Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

It was in this role that she suffered a highly publicized engine room fire that left her disabled and adrift for several days. The ship had to be towed back to San Diego for costly repairs that lasted several weeks.

After a couple of more seasons on the LA run, Carnival Splendor repositioned to New York via South America- the ship is too big to transit the Panama Canal- and she has remained a popular staple on the year round Bahamas run ever since. Unlike the slightly smaller Conquest class, Carnival Splendor has a sliding glass roof over her central, twin level pool area, making her the ideal ship for winter sailings to the Bahamas.

And hello to sultry Miami

And hello to sultry Miami

Her redeployment to Florida ups the number of Carnival ships sailing from Miami/Port Everglades to seven. Offering everything from three to eight day itineraries, the Carnival septet is expected to carry something like 1.2 million passengers between them per annum.

The Carnival Splendor will reposition to Miami via two eight day cruises, the first from New York to San Juan, and then a second leg from San Juan to Miami. Once in the Florida port, she will begin alternating, seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, sailing every Sunday.

Eastern Caribbean cruises will take in Nassau, San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk. The Western Caribbean runs will showcase Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Roatan and Belize.

Details of a replacement ship out of New York will be listed here when available. Stay tuned.

SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS- ROYAL CARIBBEAN’S STALWART

Splendour Of The Seas off Santorini

Splendour Of The Seas off Santorini

Looking at the graceful, flowing contours of Splendour Of The Seas, it’s hard to believe that the Royal Caribbean stalwart is now some seventeen years old. Always gleaming and recently extensively refurbished, the 70,000 ton Splendour has been a consistently successful team player; never really a headline maker, but rather a solid, workmanlike ship with a unique style and vibe of her own.

Part of this relatively low profile comes down to her being the second member of the six ship, oddly named Vision class. Twin sister ship, Legend Of The Seas, was the trailblazer for this innovative new class. The namesake ship was actually the last of the sextet to enter service.

Splendour Of The Seas debuted in Southampton in March of 1996, almost a year after her sister. I visited her then, and found her to be a hugely impressive ship. As with all of the class, a huge amount of floor to ceiling glass was used in the superstructure, to bathe the ship in natural light. The two deck high dining room was especially stunning, and must still rank as one of the most beautiful ever installed on any ship.

The showroom was pure Art Deco and, as with her sister ship, there was a conscious effort by Royal Caribbean to provide bigger cabins than the company ever had before. Gone were the ‘get out there’ shoeboxes of the Sovereign class; Splendour showcased over two hundred balcony cabins; a huge amount for that time.

These ships also began Royal Caribbean’s relentless march towards bigger, more amenity laden ships. Splendour featured a full, eighteen hole mini golf course on her upper decks, and it was a huge talking point at the time.

She soon settled into popular cruise service, mainly in the Mediterranean, but within three years she was eclipsed by the mammoth Voyager Of The Seas, the first of a five ship series that was, incredibly, twice the size of the Vision class.

These behemoths upped the ante enormously in the amenity stakes, and it was eventually decided that all of the Vision class ships should be retro fitted with some of the new eateries, leisure and entertainment options- such as the rock climbing walls- that have become as much signature Royal Caribbean trademarks as those famous Viking Crown lounges of old.

The result is, quite literally, the best of both worlds. Splendour Of The Seas remains relatively intimate, yet still replete with a conga line of cruising goodies comprehensive enough to satisfy the most jaded of travellers. She usually sails from the stunningly beautiful backdrop of Venice through the spring and summer, to the highlights of Croatia and the Greek Islands.

At the end of autumn, the Splendour usually relocates to South America, crossing the Atlantic in good time to offer that continent when the weather is usually at its best. Typically, she operates a series of three to seven day cruises from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo.

For those looking for an elegant, accommodating ship that offers more than just a little charm and style, the Splendour Of The Seas is definitely one of the better choices out there.

MSC ON THE MOVE; NEWS FROM A MAJOR PLAYER

MSC Orchestra is Australia bound next year

MSC Orchestra is Australia bound next year

After weeks of swirling rumours, news has come from Italian giant, MSC, on the next phase of the line’s direction.

Firstly, the line’s first ever dedicated newbuild, the MSC Lirica of 2003, will be lengthened to accommodate an extra two hundred cabins. The work is intended to be completed before the ship’s projected deployment to South America next winter, as part of a four ship line up which will also include the larger Preziosa, Poesia, and Magnifica.

As things currently stand, MSC Lirica comes in at just over 58,000 tons, and has a length of 830 feet (253 metres in new money). Built by Chantiers of Saint Nazaire, France, she presently accommodates 1,560 passengers in some 780 cabins.

No shipyard has yet been announced for the work, but the timescale almost certainly means the cancellation of at least a significant part of the MSC Lirica’s 2014 cruise schedule.

This also throws up the question of whether her twin sister, MSC Opera, is also slated for eventual similar expansion. With the line’s commitment to ever larger ships and continuing economies of scale, it seems much more likely than not.

In another move, MSC has announced that it will deploy the MSC Orchestra to Australia and the Far East next winter, after a season out of Dubai. Thus, the line emulates the moves of rivals such as Carnival, Celebrity and principally, Costa, in deploying a major ship ‘down under’.

MSC ships are known for their chic, stylish interiors

MSC ships are known for their chic, stylish interiors

And rumours of impending new builds continue to be floated, if not yet confirmed, by the company. Reports are that MSC is looking at building two new ships, with an option for a further pair at a later date. These new vessels would not be longer than the existing ships in the Splendida class; the line has concerns about being able to berth them in certain ports, and have apparently ruled out building longer vessels.

One possibility is that the new ships will be wider; if so, this would follow a trend inaugurated by Norwegian Cruise Line in the design of the Norwegian Epic in 2010, and subsequently emulated by the giant, groundbreaking Oasis and Allure Of The Seas.

One interesting story that surfaced a few years ago was that MSC might actually be contemplating a giant catamaran kind of design. If so, this would be the first since the former Radisson Diamond, a 20,000 ton design from 1992. Much was made at the time of the excellent stability of the Radisson Diamond design, but her main service speed was actually very low, and definitely hurt the itineraries she could offer.

With the benefits of two decades of advances in technology, it is possible that MSC has managed to find a way to solve that speed conundrum. And such a design would certainly be a striking, truly newsworthy coup in PR/publicity terms.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

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.

WINTER BRAZIL SEASON- WHO’S SAILING THERE THIS YEAR?

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Now that autumn’s cold, clammy fingers are tickling our collective windpipe, many of us start to succumb to an almost pathetic sense of yearning for clear skies, sparkling seas and yes, good, warm sunshine. If the Marie Celeste had only been able to drift like our collective thoughts, then she would never have been becalmed in mid ocean…..

Assuming you’re ready to take the plunge (pun wholly intentional) then; where to? If the Caribbean seems overcrowded, or the Canaries too ‘same old’, then options look as if they are beginning to stretch thinner than the credibility of Donald Trump’s wig. The Far East too far out? The winter Mediterranean not warm enough? Dubai just ‘duh’?

So- how about Brazil in particular and, indeed, South America in general?

OK. Halt. Who goes there? Well, you might be surprised at just how many options you actually have, my friends…

Late each autumn, a conga line of cruise ships flee the leaden European winter and flock like so many exotic birds of passage to the warmer, far friendlier waters of South America. Every kind of ship and line, from budget to mass market, to deluxe, all inclusive icons of the cruise trade. And they do it for very good reasons.

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal...

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal…

For starters, there’s that sultry, samba fuelled fire cracker otherwise known as Rio De Janeiro. But Brazil is far more than just Rio. There are stunning beach resorts like Ilhabela, Paraty and cool, swaggering Recife. Argentina rolls out the red carpet in sultry, full blooded Buenos Aires, the tango capital of the world. An overnight stay here on most cruises is almost mandatory. Quite right, too.

Uruguay is often overlooked and forgotten in the South American beauty pageant, and yet Montevideo is one of the most stately, graceful monuments to sheer indolence and tropical cafe life that you’ll find anywhere south of the equator. In short, there are no shortage of places, parties and sheer pleasurable experiences to be had down under the balmy tropical Latin skies.

You just have to decide what ship and style is right for you.

Louis Cruise is operating the Louis Aura (ex-Orient Queen) in those waters over the winter. She’s small, intimate and unassuming, but well fed and chock full of charm and fun. Cruise lengths are everything from three days to a week. The ship is an absolutely great budget choice for the region.

Latin flavours are on offer from both Iberocruises and Pullmantur, The two Spanish operators both have a ship or two ‘down Rio way’ during the winter, offering predominantly seven day cruises. Of the two, Pullmantur has the advantage of being all inclusive, and generally offers bigger ships. Both products are great value for the fares charged.

MSC know how to get the samba started

MSC know how to get the samba started

Staying in that Latin groove, both Costa and rival MSC have big, amenity laden megaships aplenty down here for the season; a hangover from the days when Italian liners routinely made line voyages from Italy down to South America. The big draw with both lines is the vast number of available balcony cabins that they offer.  These are probably the best party boats in the region if you’re looking for some serious hedonism, but the lines to get off and on them at some ports might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Good prices, though, and again, itineraries are typically six and seven days, with a few shorter cruises in between.

Touch more international? Royal Caribbean usually has a pair of its gorgeous Vision class ships down here, with their updated eating areas and vast swathes of floor to ceiling glass windows. They, too, will offer six and seven night round trips- typically from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo- but they will also fold some shorter, three and four night jaunts into the mix as well. And, don’t forget that Royal Caribbean now offer a handful of single cabins on many of their ships as well.

Want luxury? Fine. Sassy Crystal, sophisticated, European accented Silversea and classy, all inclusive Regent Seven Seas all offer winter holidays on wonderful, expansively opulent ships, where tailored service, gourmet food and a classically styled cruise experience are all in the mix. Longer itineraries- typically in excess of ten days- allow for a far more immersive experience, but at a price.

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Most of these lines will offer you packages including airfare, hotels and transfers, but what if you want to book your own flights? Well, here’s a few ideas….

British Airways offers a string of flights from all over the UK through Heathrow, and many of these are often on a code share with it’s Spanish partner, Iberia, over Madrid.

Air France/KLM also offers good regional connections to both Brazil and Argentina over it’s main hubs at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and Amsterdam Schipol.

You could also do worse than to take TAP Air Portugal. They fly from their main hubs in Lisbon and Porto, with connections from the UK available from Gatwick, Heathrow, and also a limited number from Manchester in the winter months.

So-food for thought? Throw off your winter woolies, put on your dancing shoes, slap on the factor thirty sun screen (lots of it) and- get out there!

AAH-RU-BA- THE DUTCH ANTILLES POLISHED LITTLE GEM

Main street, Oranjestad

Main street, Oranjestad

One of the most seductively styled and enduring of all the Caribbean islands, Aruba actually sits less than twenty miles from the northern coastline of South America. Aruba is part of the ‘ABC’ group of islands in the Netherlands Antilles- the other two are Bonaire and Curacao- and today, it retains more than just memories of its Dutch colonial days.

The capital of Oranjestad (literally ‘Orange Town’) is where most of the cruise ships dock. It’s a funky, breezy little brew of fussy, overly ornate shops, restaurants and buzzing waterfront bars, many of them with upper level balconies that offer stunning vistas out over the sparkling Caribbean itself. For some reason, Aruba seems big on casinos and, indeed, gambling in general.

Still more bars crouch along the edges of the languid, sun splashed waterfront, with umbrella shaded tables within strolling distance of fleets of idle, immaculate yachts bobbing at their moorings. The more eclectic establishments might boast life size pirate mannequins haunting the waterfront, or the odd cow, grazing contentedly on the roof. No, I don’t know why, either.

Aruba is also well known for being one of the Caribbean’s premier petrol refineries. The German navy certainly knew. Back in 1942, a surfaced German U-Boat attempted to shell the refineries here, but without much success.

Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach

Unlike many of the Caribbean islands, Aruba has a dry climate. It also lies outside of the main summer time hurricane belt. As a result, it’s temperature is pretty constant year round. If you ever needed an excuse to enjoy a day at the beach, you now have it. Those on the south west coast are more sheltered from wind and waves than on the other shores.

Fortunately, you’ll find the likes of Eagle Beach are fully set up for some serious hedonism, Dutch style. Hammocks slung between palm trees resemble nothing so much as a series of slow, languid smiles, framed against the dreamy blue expanse of the ocean. Thatched huts and thrilling jet ski rides, para gliders and pina coladas compete for your custom and attention.

And if all that showing off is exhausting, just smile, slouch back into a hammock, and grab an ice cold, aptly patriotic Dutch Heineken. After all, this is Holland in the Caribbean.

Waterfront bar, Oranjestad

Waterfront bar, Oranjestad

Not that you need an excuse, mind you. But the symmetry is kind of sweet….

LOUIS GOES SAMBA- LOUIS AURA TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR THE WINTER

Indoor promenade

Indoor promenade

In a move that has surprised many in the cruise industry, Louis Cruises has announced that it’s 1968-built Orient Queen, formerly the pioneering NCL Starward, will go on charter to South America this year. Itineraries have yet to be made public.

Like her Cuba bound fleet mate, Louis Cristal, the Orient Queen usually goes into warm lay up over the winter after her season of cruises around the Greek islands. The new South American charter marks the first winter deployment of the ship for several years. She will be renamed Louis Aura to coincide with it.

The renamed ship will be a welcome contrast to the mega ships of Costa and MSC which traditionally dominate the winter South America trade. At just under 16,000 tons, she has eight decks, with a lower capacity of 820 passengers accommodated in some 355 staterooms, and served by a crew of 337.

That smaller size should allow the Louis Aura to provide a diverse range of itineraries to smaller ports. The downside for some might be the fact that the ship has no balcony cabins. Insides in particular are quite small, with little storage space but, as the ship is quite informal, dressing up is not a big thing, and packing fairly lightly is the order of the day.

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

Louis Aura offers passengers a main dining room that operates in two sittings for dinner, plus an aft facing outdoor buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Most of the public rooms are set along the length of one deck, from the forward facing show room to a couple of lounges, and the main restaurant at the stern. This has a lovely wall of glass windows looking out over the ship’s wake.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Side view of the solarium

Side view of the solarium

Main pool area

Main pool area

There are shopping facilities, plus hairdressing and styling services. Uniquely, she also features a windowless, two level casino, wrought out of the space that was once the original cinema. There is also a quartet of small elevators.

Solarium seating area

Solarium seating area

There are two pools, one partly covered by a triple-tiered, glass enclosed solarium that doubles up as a late night music venue and disco. An upper deck, Balinese themed spa has an indoor Jacuzzi, available at a small charge.

Pool area at night

Pool area at night

On the European cruises, cabin breakfast is available for a small surcharge. Whether the dining options might be tweaked to suit the tastes of a much more late night, predominantly Latin crowd remains to be seen.

The Louis Aura is scheduled to finish up her current series of Greek Island cruises the second week in November. No one has yet announced whether the transatlantic crossing from Athens to South America will be carrying passengers, but it would certainly make for a fascinating proposition.

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

This is definitely one to keep an eye on. I enjoyed a short cruise out of Limassol on the ship last year (see previous blogs), and I think she might be a feisty little contender for the South American trade. Stay tuned for itinerary updates as they become available.

LOUIS CRUISES- LOOKING AHEAD

CNV00158Louis Cruises has settled into 2013 with an upgraded programme of three, four and seven day cruises in their home waters around the Greek islands and Turkey. But it is the itineraries for next winter that really mark out a different strategy for the Hellenic mainstay line.

The main programme of three and four day cruises operates out of Athens until November, with the Louis Olympia and Orient Queen taking pride of place. Each Friday, both ships set out on a mid morning departure that takes them to Mykonos that same evening, before arriving in Kusadasi on Saturday. The next morning finds them in Heraklion, Crete, during the morning, with a late afternoon, five hour stay over in Santorini. Both ships return to Athens on the Monday morning,; for these cruises, embarkation is also possible in Kusadasi as well.

The four day cruises depart on Monday morning, and again call in at Mykonos that same evening. Tuesday morning is spent in Kusadasi, and the afternoon and early evening showcases a call at Patmos.

Wednesday allows for a full day in Rhodes, and Thursday once again features a morning in Heraklion, and the evening in Santorini, before returning to Athens early on Friday morning. Once again, embarkation is possible in Kusadasi, as well as in Rhodes.

CNV00018Louis is also offering a few seven night cruises on the Orient Queen next month, also from Athens. These basically extend the four night trip by adding a welcome overnight stay in Mykonos, and a call in to sultry Istanbul. These itineraries can also be booked as round trips  from Istanbul as well.

Orient Queen then moves over to Cyprus, from where she will operate a series of two to five day cruises around the Greek Islands from Limassol.

But the really big splash comes this winter when, in association with Canada-based Cuba Cruises, Louis will send the Louis Cristal out to Cuba, to begin a series of seven night, round trip Caribbean fly cruises from December through April. Embarkation will be possible both in Havana, and in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though the cruises are chartered, and mainly for the Canadian market, Louis will also be selling cabin space on board.

Even more surprising is the news that Orient Queen- soon to be renamed Louis Aura- will be sent to South America over the winter, to operate a series of cruises there. This represents a welcome contrast in a cruising arena that has been the sole preserve of the mega ships up until now. Having sailed on the ship last year, I can vouch for the fact that she is a perfect size for getting into the smaller, more secluded ports that the big ‘floating resorts’ have to bypass because of their size.

CNV00145Other welcome news is that next year will see the return of the popular Coral, under the new name of Louis Rhea. At present, she is expected to sail alongside the much larger Louis Olympia on the three and four day ‘greatest hits’ cruises of the Greek islands and Turkey.

I’ll be providing a more detailed look at the experience of cruising with Louis in the near future.