STAR CRUISES BOUND FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN IN 2016 (UPDATED)

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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.

 

DECEMBER 7TH UPDATE;

In a brief, but very to the point press release addressed to Cruise Industry News (www.cruiseindustrynews.com) 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.

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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Singapore beckons for the Norwegian Star

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

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

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

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

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Norwegian is going global for 2016

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

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

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Atrium lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

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

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

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

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Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

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

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

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

Perhaps such ideas are already under consideration, who knows?

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

As ever, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING THE NORWEGIAN DREAM

Before Norwegian Cruise Line went on a mega ship building binge, there was a time in the early nineties when the company slowly began the transition from running smaller, sold out cruise ships such as the Starward, to a series of medium sized new builds that formed the mainstay of the company for the better part of a decade and a half.

The first of these new ships was the Seaward, which entered service in 1988. She was strictly a one off vessel, but she did pave the way for a new pair, to be built in the same French shipyard as the beloved company flagship, the ageing SS. Norway.

These twin sister ships would be called the Dreamward and the Windward. At around 42,000 tons each, they introduced some radical new concepts for NCL when they first debuted. Of the two, it was the Dreamward that arrived first, in November of 1992. She was showcased to the UK travel trade at Greenwich on a rainy winter Sunday but, even then, the new ship shone through.

The Dreamward featured a centrally located main pool, with the sun decks in front of it stacked up in a series of tiered steps. A modified version of this arrangement would later become a feature of the new Carnival Destiny class, the first cruise ships in the world to exceed the 100,000 ton mark.

Aft, a series of curved, window walled terraced restaurants formed a graceful cascade at the stern, offering stunning views out over the ship’s wake. A second, smaller plunge pool was located just behind them.

Inside, every cabin- both inside and outside- featured a small, dedicated sitting area that was separate to the bedroom. And, bowing to a rising tide of demand, the new ship also featured a handful of balcony cabins.

The Dreamward was formally christened by her godmother, Diana Ross, in December 1992. Almost immediately, she entered service on the popular, seven night eastern and western Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami. For the 1993 summer season, she moved north to New York, from where she operated a series of seven night cruises to Bermuda.

The centre piece of these cruises was a full, three night stay alongside in Hamilton, and these proved to be immensely popular. By this time, sister ship Windward was also in service, sailing to Alaska in the summer, and then joining the Dreamward out of Miami in the winter months. With little real variation, it was a routine that the two sister ships would follow over several seasons.

In 1997, Norwegian Cruise Line decided to lengthen both ships. In January of 1998, the Dreamward was dispatched first to a German shipyard, and there cut in half to facilitate the insertion of a pre built new mid section, some forty metres long.

In addition to this, both the mast and the top of the funnel were fitted with special hinges that would allow them to be ‘flipped’ to one side, to facilitate passage under the lower bridges of the Kiel Canal. Once refurbished, NCL planned to use the ship on a series of first time, pioneering cruises out of the United Kingdom to the Baltic capitals. And, with her new look came a new name; the ship was restyled as the Norwegian Dream.

In this guise, her tonnage increased to around 50,000, and her passenger capacity was increased. from around 1,250 up to 1,750.

The first season of these twelve night Baltic sailings were well received. Each one featured an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, as the highlight of a circuit that typically included such ports of call as Warnemunde, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, and sometimes Oslo as well. In this role, the Norwegian Dream became something of a trend setter; a role she would play out during the remainder of her service with NCL.

Then, in August of 1999, the Norwegian Dream collided with a container ship, the Ever Decent, in the middle of a thick English Channel fog. The bow of the cruise ship crumpled like rice paper, but she was never in any danger of sinking. Mercifully, there were no injuries on either ship.  Her mangled prow had to be rebuilt, at great expense, back in Germany. Following this, she re-entered service just in time for the winter time Caribbean peak season.

As newer, more amenity laden tonnage entered the NCL fleet, the Norwegian Dream was sent further afield during the winter season. She sailed a series of superb, round trip cruises in South America and to the Chilean fjords for several seasons, usually voyages of seventeen days’ duration. It was while she was on one of these that the Norwegian Dream was involved in a second collision, when she hit a barge while leaving the port of Montevideo in December of 2007. Fortunately, the damage to neither ship was serious.

The Norwegian Dream also started the tradition of winter cruising from New Orleans for NCL, running on seven night circuits to the western Caribbean. But, by 2008, it was clear that the ship no longer matched the new company profile. Her sale was expected imminently by many.

That year, the Norwegian Dream ran one final season of cruises to Bermuda from Boston, in a kind of valedictory farewell to her original role. Her sale to Louis Cruises had by then been announced and, at the end of that season, the ship sailed over to Greece, ready to begin a new life.

It never happened.

Though Louis did indeed take up the purchase of her fleet mate and fellow ‘Bermuda boat’, Norwegian Majesty, the Greek company declined to go ahead with also taking the Norwegian Dream. Louis Cruises cited ‘mechanical issues’ as a major hurdle. For a full three and a half years, the Norwegian Dream sat on life support in the Aegean, making occasional short runs between the islands to try and resolve the issues.

Finally, at the end of 2011, the ship got under way once more and headed for a dockyard in Singapore. Here, she would be transformed into the Superstar Gemini for NCL’s parent company, Star Cruises, to operate short, port intensive cruises in the Far East.

Heavily refurbished and in many ways re-invented, the Superstar Gemini enjoyed a happy reunion with her sister ship. The Norwegian Wind was by now sailing as the Superstar Aquarius for Star Cruises, and the two sister ships are now once more sailing in harmonious tandem service.

This $50 million renovation also brought her passenger capacity back down to around 1,532- a sensible decision. On a Bermuda cruise in June 2008 that I made aboard her, the Norwegian Dream– fully booked for the sailing- had seemed really crowded.

I was also lucky enough to sail on her in June of 2000, up to Scandinavia, after the repairs to her bow. In the opinion of many, the lengthening of the ship spoiled the formerly good passenger traffic flow through the ship but, having never sailed her as the Dreamward, I am not really in a position to comment.

This pioneering ship deserves more respect and appreciation than she often got back in her NCL days. The Norwegian Dream was a stylish, well thought out design that combined a wonderful external harmony with more than a dash of elegance. Like her sister ship, she served the company well during it’s ‘lost’ years of the late 1990’s. In fact, in many ways, she and her sister helped lay the foundations for the miraculous recovery that the current company enjoys to this day.

The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008

The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008

NORWEGIAN DREAM- BERMUDA 2008 CRUISE

In her last season with Norwegian Cruise Line in 2008, the Norwegian Dream was put back on her old Boston to Bermuda run for one last season.

Having first sailed the ship in the Baltic in 2000, I decided to go back one more time, to experience the ship before what was intended to be her sale- together with fleet mate, Norwegian Majesty- to Louis Cruises.

Sailing over mid summer week, the Norwegian Dream was scheduled to spend three nights’ docked in the old, historic capital of St. Georges’ -very much my favourite part of that wonderful island. But, as we approached the entrance to the channel, high winds kicked in. Captain Aage Hoddevik decided to take the ship around to Hamilton instead.

We would spend our three days here, and it was fun all around.

The shots in here are not ‘glamour’ pictures; they simply portray every day life aboard a cruise ship, making a weekly circuit in the summer season. For a number of reasons, the sale to Louis Cruises fell through, and the Norwegian Dream endured five years of soul destroying lay up in the Greek Islands.

 Finally rescued by Star Cruises, the 50,000 ton ship was extensively refitted, and resumed service as the Superstar Gemini in 2013, on short, port intensive cruises in the Far East. So; here we are.  A look back at a ship that was a favourite of many passengers- the Norwegian Dream.

She was originally built as the Dreamward in the shipyard that is now STX France, back in late 1982, and christened by Diana Ross. A few months later, she was followed by a nearly identical sister, the Windward.

As Norwegian changed direction, both ships were sent back to Germany in 1998 to be cut in half and lengthened with a substantial mid section. They were then restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

For her first season of Baltic cruises in 1999, the Norwegian Dream was fitted with a set of hinges to the top of her funnel that allowed it to be flipped sideways, a necessity for passing under the relatively low bridges of the Kiel Canal.

It was in that year that she rammed a container ship, the Ever Decent, in thick fog in the English Channel, at the end of a Baltic cruise. Her bow crumpled like wet cardboard, and had to be entirely rebuilt at massive expense. Luckily, there were no fatalities on either ship.

Later, in December 2007, the Norwegian Dream was involved in another, luckily far less damaging collision with another container ship in Montevideo, Uruguay. 

Now sailing successfully for Star Cruises, she has been reunited with her sister ship, Norwegian Wind, now operating for that company as the Superstar Aquarius.

The boat deck. Look how close we are to the city centre

The boat deck. Look how close we are to town

The main pool deck on the Norwegian Dream

The main pool deck on the Norwegian Dream

Life on deck changed very little in those days

Life on deck changed very little in those days

Deck. Ship. At sea....

Deck. Ship. At sea….

Strange shaped swimming pool...

Strange shaped swimming pool…

Looking aft to the funnel

Looking aft to the funnel

That deck house was a sweet little spot

That deck house was a sweet little spot

I think this was called Lucky's Bar?

I think this was called Lucky’s Bar?

Remember these big, forward observation windows?

The big, forward observation windows

This was my Promenade Deck cabin

This was my Promenade Deck cabin

Arriving in Hamilton

Arriving in Hamilton

The ship alongside in Hamilton

The ship alongside in Hamilton

Looking back from ashore

Looking back from ashore

Norwegian Dream, seen from a ferry

Norwegian Dream, seen from a ferry

Bow shot from a waterfront bar

Bow shot from a waterfront bar

Ship to shore; just a few short steps

Ship to shore; just a few short steps

Dusk on the Hamilton waterfront

Dusk on the Hamilton waterfront

Band limbering up on deck

Band limbering up on deck

Hamilton waterfront from on board

Hamilton waterfront from on board

The sit in pool bar

The sit in pool bar

The Rendezvous Bar

The Rendezvous Bar

Entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant

Entrance to the Four Seasons Restaurant

The beautifully backlit terraces

The beautifully backlit terraces

Terraces from starboard, looking forward

Terraces from starboard, looking forward

This was the quiet part of the ship

This was the quiet part of the ship

COSTA SENDS THIRD SHIP TO CHINA (Updated)

More Costa tonnage is setting course for the Chinese market

More Costa tonnage is setting course for the Chinese market

In an announcement today broken on the Seatrade Insider website (www.seatrade-insider.com) Costa Cruises is to deploy a third cruise ship in the increasingly lucrative Chinese market from April of 2015.

The 114,000 ton, 3,780 passenger Costa Serena will be making a series of five and six night cruises to the highlights of Japan and Korea. She joins a year round line up that already includes the mega ships, Costa Victoria and Costa Atlantica.

2015 will also see the Costa Atlantica operate the first ever world cruise aimed solely at Chinese passengers- a massive leap of faith in offering such a deployment on such a large ship.

The addition of this third ship gives Costa an overall capacity of around 9,000 in a market that parent company, Carnival Corporation, is predicting will be the second largest in the world as early as 2017.

In terms of cruising numbers, the UK provided some 1.73 million cruise passengers in 2013, Germany had a figure of 1.69 million, and China had around 471,000 cruising passengers. By 2020, those Chinese numbers are predicted to rise to around 1.6 million.

While the figures for American passengers are obviously higher, this projected explosive expansion of Chinese passengers explains why companies like Costa and Royal Caribbean are reinforcing their positions in that market with premium new tonnage. The market must seem almost limitless.

Jaws dropped by the dozen a couple of weeks ago, when Royal Caribbean announced that it was sending the brand new, ground breaking Quantum Of The Seas out to the Far East, exclusively for the burgeoning Chinese market.

But, for now at least, it is Carnival Corporation that remains in pole position for the Chinese build up. As well as the Costa trio, sister brand, Princess Cruises, also has the  116,000 ton, 2,670 passenger Sapphire Princess operating in the region from May to September.

All of these deployments come against a backdrop of escalating regional tensions between an increasingly assertive pair of age old rivals,  China and Japan. In addition, Star Cruises has a pair of 144,000 ton new builds- the first that the line has commissioned this century- coming into the mix in the next few years, though there is no indication as yet that either of these will be dedicated to the Chinese market.

The bottom line is that Asia- Australia- Far East as a whole is increasingly on the radar of the major players in the cruise industry. As the market expands, I expect to see more, newer and more prestigious ships across all the major brands being assimilated straight into this increasingly lucrative market.

As always, stay tuned.

Additional Costa update: The line has also announced that the Costa Classica will be restyled as the Costa NeoClassica in a refit, and will then become the third ship in the Costa NeoCruises brand. In her new guise, the Costa NeoClassica will introduce a new series of Indian Ocean cruises.

LOOKING AHEAD; SOME SNIPPETS, AND A FEW QUESTIONS

Is HAL downsizing?

Is HAL downsizing?

February has broken with some possible welcome news in the cruise industry, an unfortunate accident, and a few question marks that have been hanging around for some time. Let’s take a look at some of them

Following the fire that ravaged part of her lido deck and forward superstructure at the end of November, 2013, there is still no word on whether or not the veteran Ocean Countess might possibly see a return to service. Indeed, the pall of silence that has enveloped the blackened, but seemingly only superficially damaged ship, is far thicker- and potentially more noxious- than the smoke that shrouded the burning ship.

I’ve already touched on the Marco Polo accident in a previous blog, but owners Cruise And Maritime now also have to contend with the second punch of an awful double whammy; the news that partner company, All Leisure Cruises, is putting the chartered MV Discovery up for sale.

This puts CMV- who only recently dipped a first tentative toe into European river cruising- in a bit of a bind. Do they buy the Discovery outright themselves, or perhaps look elsewhere to charter? Ironically, the Ocean Countess, mentioned above, was at one time also chartered by CMV.

Meanwhile, seemingly reliable (that is to say, non official) sources in Dubai are saying that all of the engines aboard QE2 are  now back on line, and that her whistle has been heard, bellowing around the bay. The same sources have intimated that former Cunard staff are on board the veteran ship; all straws in the wind that indicate that her much hyped voyage to China via Singapore, originally scheduled for October 2013, may indeed finally be on.

Is QE2 finally about to move?

Is QE2 finally about to move?

Though her future is still shrouded in uncertainty, my feeling is that any sign of regeneration right now must be viewed as a positive. Past experiences tell us all too well that official pronouncements must be taken with a ton of salt. And even so, we can only watch, wait, and hope.

Still on the veteran ship front, seemingly great news comes from Oman, where the former Kungsholm is still moored. A return for the 1966 built Swedish American veteran to either Stockholm or Gothenburg seems on the cards, together with the restoration of her mutilated forward funnel. With her interiors already adapted for hotel use during her stay in Oman, the only real obstacle to returning the beloved liner to her home country seems to be the securing of a permanent berth for her. Negotiations for that are, apparently, ongoing right now.

It also appears that the 1992 built Statendam is up for sale. The ship, the first of a ‘new’, five ship series, built for the Holland America Line, would perhaps make an ideal fit for Fred. Olsen, long known to be interested in acquiring her smaller fleet mate, Prinsendam.

Also welcome news from Star Cruises, who have now ordered a second new giant ship from Meyer Werft of Papenburg, Germany. My guess is that these two ships will be modified versions of the hugely successful Breakaway class, now sailing for sister company, Norwegian Cruise Line.

That’s it for now. As ever, stay tuned.

UPDATE: 

Ocean Countess is scheduled for scrapping at Aliaga, Turkey, this month according to a report on merseyshipping.blogspot.com

My grateful thanks go to Chris Thompson for pointing me in this direction.

GEARING UP FOR GETAWAY- NORWEGIAN AND IT’S OPTIONS

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

The awesome bulk of the Norwegian Epic

With next week’s debut of the hugely anticipated Norwegian Getaway bang on schedule, and two new, further enhanced ships in the same class now firm orders with Meyer Werft at Papenburg, Norwegian can begin contemplating possible expansion into other areas. The question is; where, and with what?

It might be first best to look at the current Norwegian fleet as it stands right now. The fleet comprises the near sisters, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky, as well as the Papenburg built sextet of Star, Dawn, Jewel, Jade, Pearl and Gem.

The Norwegian Spirit is unique in the fleet, having transferred over from Star Cruises, instead of vice versa, as was the norm.

The stand alone Norwegian Epic and the Hawaii- based Pride Of America rounded out the roster, until the debut last spring of the spectacularly successful Norwegian Breakaway. With the imminent addition of Getaway next week, that brings the total number of ships under the company colours to thirteen in all.

Currently, Sky is deployed year round on three and four night cruises from Miami. Sister ship, Norwegian Sun, spends summers in Alaska, and winters in the Caribbean.

Norwegian Spirit spends the year in Europe

Norwegian Spirit spends the year in Europe

In Europe, the company has a spring through fall annual deployment of the Epic, which returns to the Caribbean each winter; there is also a year round Mediterranean ship- Norwegian Jade- while the beautiful, oriental themed Spirit spends summer in the Med, and winters cruising to the Canary Islands.

Seasonal Scandinavia sailings are currently handled out of Copenhagen by the Norwegian Star. In the fall season, she relocates to Los Angeles for cruises down to the Mexican Riviera. As previously cited, the one off Pride Of America operates year round sailings around the Hawaiian Islands.

The new Norwegian Breakaway sails year round from New York; to Bermuda in the summer, and the Bahamas through the winter. The remainder of the Norwegian fleet- Jewel and Pearl- spend summers in Alaska, and winters in the Caribbean. Norwegian Dawn spends summers sailing to Bermuda from Boston, and winters in the Caribbean as well.

The addition of Norwegian Getaway- scheduled to operate year round, seven day cruises out of Miami- gives the line some limited options to expand into other markets. We’re not talking about the far reaching, large global redeployments of Carnival and Royal Caribbean- yet- but a new ship does allow a little flexibility in the Norwegian fleet as it stands.

So, what form might such deployments take?

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Certainly not a year round ship in the UK in the immediate future. Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan told me himself that he has no plans to base a ship permanently in the British market.

Nor does Asia seem especially likely; sister company, Star Cruises, has that area pretty well covered and, with its own massive new build coming in a year or two, there seems little incentive for Norwegian to go in that direction, either.

Instead, Norwegian might go for an Australian deployment. The company briefly flirted with the Antipodes in the late nineties, with the short lived Norwegian Capricorn Line. It was an idea before it’s time, but that time could have finally come around.

Possibly the Norwegian Pearl, or even the Jewel, could make the switch to Australian sailings. Rumours have centered around the Norwegian Epic going south of the Equator, but she would be too big an act to follow up with in Europe for now, at least. I think one of the smaller ships might get a revamp, and then go to Australia.

Less adventurous, Norwegian could also reintroduce a ship on the five day circuit out of Miami, to Grand Cayman and Cozumel. It did this for a number of seasons (I sailed on a couple of them) but, in the last few years, these cruises have been left entirely to their rivals. It should be a realistic goal over the winter, at the very least.

And with two more ships coming over the next few years- Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss- the company will be replete with more new tonnage to utilize. A return to South America cruising (Norwegian used to specialize in long cruises along and through the Chilean Fjords at one time) could be on the cards, or even a possible entry into the South African cruise season might be on the cards.

In any event, next week’s debut of the Norwegian Getaway certainly moves Norwegian up a gear as a company. I’ll be on board next week for her inaugural celebrations, with a review to follow.

As always, stay tuned.

STAR CRUISE’S NEW BUILD- NEW DETAILS ON AN ASIAN DREAM

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.

A NORWEGIAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST (Updated)

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

In the legion of seemingly lost and vanished ships, few companies can equal the turnover of Norwegian Cruise Line. And yet, again, you would be surprised how many of their smaller, mid sized ships still survive to this day, and exactly what they are up to now.

So, here we go; a Norwegian edition of ‘where are they now’. If an old particular favourite isn’t listed, then apologies in advance, but the likelihood is that the ship in question has been scrapped. Sorry.

When Knut Kloster started his barnstorming, revolutionary Caribbean cruise line in 1968, it was known simply as Norwegian Caribbean Line, or NCL. Kloster fired the starting gun with a quartet of white hulled, racy little dream boats that were space age at the time. And, incredibly, some of these are still doing the rounds today.

His funky little Sunward II actually began life sailing for Cunard, as the Cunard Adventurer. Bought by Norwegian in 1977, the Sunward II spent many years on the short, three and four day cruise runs from Miami to Nassau, and the company’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay.

She’s still in service with Louis Cruises, as the Coral, but will be renamed as Louis Rhea next year for a full programme of Mediterranean cruises. Externally, she’s almost as she was in her Norwegian days.

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Several of her fleet mates have made the trek over to Louis Cruises, to such an extent that the Louis fleet is almost an NCL Part Two. The Starward, built in 1968, is still sailing as the Orient Queen. Shortly due to be renamed Louis Aura, the veteran ship is off to Brazil over the winter to operate a series of three to seven night cruises for a local tour operator.

Louis also has the Louis Cristal, at one time the Leeward. She was the successor to the Sunward II on the short cruises from Miami and now, by a supreme irony, she is part of the same fleet. This winter, she is off to operate a series of ground breaking Caribbean cruises from Havana, in Cuba, under charter to a Canadian tour operator.

Last for now in the Louis beauty pageant is the Thomson Majesty, chartered by the UK based Thomson Cruises, but still owned by Louis. The ship, fondly remembered by many as the Norwegian Majesty, sailed for many years on the Boston to Bermuda run, and she also offered winter cruises out of Charleston. Like her fleet mates, she is essentially unchanged from her Norwegian days.

The other great beneficiary of old Norwegian Cruise Line tonnage has been parent company, Star Cruises. Back in the early nineties, Norwegian built a pair of more or less identical sisters, the Dreamward and the Windward (they were nicknamed ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ by industry wags). Later, after being lengthened, these two ships were restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Norwegian Wind was transferred to Star Cruises and renamed Superstar Aquarius. Slated to go to Louis, Norwegian Dream was declined, and spent five years in warm lay up, before finally re-entering service for Star Cruises this year as the Superstar Gemini.

Another Norwegian stalwart found her way to an unlikely new life with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Their feisty little Braemar actually spent a long period as the Norwegian Dynasty, a ship that sailed summer itineraries in Alaska, and winter Caribbean cruises.

And the current flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet is yet another ex-Norwegian stalwart. Although originally built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line as the stunning Crown Odyssey, Balmoral spent two full decades as part of the extended Norwegian ‘family’, including two spells with the now defunct Orient Lines. Stretched during the course of her 2008 conversion, many of her interiors are still instantly recognisable from her early days.

So, there you go. And if some of your fondly remembered favourites are in this list, now you know where they are. And if you’re hankering to renew old acquaintances, now you have what amounts to an absolutely perfect excuse. Have fun, and happy sailing.

NEW START UP CRUISE LINE FOR INDIA?

The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

Word is beginning to circulate about the imminent announcement of a new cruise line, formed for and aimed at tapping the potentially vast cruise market on the Indian sub-continent.

The company will be known as Royal Asian Cruise Line, and it eventually envisages deployment of up to five, second hand ships. Already said to have been acquired is the Gemini, a 19,900 ton ship that last sailed for the short lived Happy Cruises. She was originally a twin sister of Fred. Olsen’s Braemar, and has also sailed for Cunard, Commodore, and Star Cruises. Her last reported usage was in Tilbury, as a hotel ship for the 2012 London Olympics.

This is not the first time that a company has attempted to tap the market in India; both Louis Cruises and Star Cruises themselves have attempted to start up single ship operations from India. Issues with port infrastructures conspired to defeat both operations at the time- obstacles which the new company clearly believes can and will be addressed prior to any start up of services.

The new line intends to tailor its services, cuisine and on board facilities to meet the tastes and lifestyles of what it assumes will be it’s predominantly Indian passengers. It is hoping to launch with three ships in the first stage.

So, given that the line would be made up of second hand tonnage, what options are currently available to Royal Asian?

For starters, MSC Cruises have still not found a buyer for their laid up MSC Melody. I saw her last week in the harbour at Naples, looking quite smart. At around 32,000 tons and capable of carrying around 1200 passengers, she would be a solid choice for a no frills, start up line. She also has the advantage of being available immediately.

Another candidate could well be the 17,000 ton Ocean Countess, recently disposed of by Cruise and Maritime. With a capacity of around 800, she is roughly comparable with the Gemini in terms of size.

Another candidate could just possibly be the venerable Saga Ruby, due to finish her final season with Saga Cruises next year. Also back on the market is 28,000 ton Veronica, last used as a hotel ship in Oman. This ship, originally built as the Swedish American Line’s Kungsholm back in 1966, is also available now.

Cruising regions for the new line would include the Indian ocean area, including Sri Lanka.

The final pieces of the jigsaw are expected to be put in place in Barcelona next week, where investment bankers are currently said to be putting together money to finance the project.

As ever, I’ll be updating this as and when developments become clear. Stay tuned.