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.

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

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.

RISING STAR? ASIAN GIANT TALKING ABOUT A NEWBUILD- UPDATED

Terrace view from the Superstar Virgo

Terrace view from the Superstar Virgo

In a move that will surprise more than a few people, Star Cruises have entered into talks with a major European shipyard- widely believed to be Meyer Werft at Papenburg, Germany- about the possibility of a new build for the Asian market.

if this is true, this will be the first purpose built new vessel for the line since the 1999 built Superstar Virgo. She was preceded a year earlier by a sister, the 70,000 ton Superstar Leo.

It was this stunning pair of sister ships that previewed the Freestyle Dining concept that was transferred so successfully to sister company, Norwegian Cruise Line. Also transferred was the Superstar Leo, sent to Norwegian in 2004, and currently cruising very successfully in Europe as the Asian-themed Norwegian Spirit.

The aftermath of 9/11 saw a rationalisation of the two cruise lines, with Star Cruises choosing to concentrate on smaller, second hand vessels transferred from the Norwegian fleet and modified for the Asian market. Their fleet currently comprises the Superstar Gemini (ex-Norwegian Dream), her twin sister Superstar Aquarius (ex-Norwegian Wind), the Superstar Libra (ex-Norwegian Sea) and the aforementioned Superstar Virgo, very much the queen of the fleet.

Traditionally, Star Cruises has concentrated on the Asian, Chinese and Indian markets, offering short three to five day cruises from a range of hubs that includes Taiwan, Port Kelang, and Hong Kong. The line did make one foray into Mediterranean cruising, sending the Superstar Libra to the region for a season of fly cruises that has not since been repeated.

Interestingly, a request from Norwegian Cruise Line for the Superstar Virgo was turned down by Genting, the parent company of Star Cruises, a few years ago.

Asian styled lobby of the Norwegian Spirit, ex-Superstar Leo

Asian styled lobby of the Norwegian Spirit, ex-Superstar Leo

What has changed significantly is the entry of other mainstream players into the potentially limitless Asian market, notably Costa, Royal Caribbean, Princess and even Celebrity. All of these lines brought in more modern, state of the art tonnage to vie with Star Cruises for its previously unquestioned dominant role in the Far East.

Star has clearly decided to act. The choice of Meyer Werft as a partner is logical; the German company has built most of the recent Norwegian tonnage- including Norwegian Breakaway and the imminent Norwegian Getaway- and it has an enviable record for delivering a quality product, one time and within budget.

What will be interesting to see is whether this will be a single ship order, or whether we are actually looking at tentative orders for one, or perhaps more, siblings. Details of size, facilities and parameters are obviously not out in the public domain yet. But I would expect any new build (s) to be fully competitive on all levels with the current crop of European imports cruising the same waters.

I’ll keep you updated as, if and when these become available. Stay tuned,

UPDATE: Today (October 7th) Star Cruises announced an order for a new,  3,364 passenger cruise ship from Meyer Werft’s Papenburg yard, at a cost of some 707 million euros. No other details are at present available.

PARADE TO THE BLOCK: SAVED OR SCRAPPED?

Heading for a new life next year....

Heading for a new life next year….

With the recent arrival of the former Pacific Princess at the Aliaga scrapyards, it seems to be open season on all currently redundant seventies tonnage, and even for some eighties stalwarts, for that matter. Nothing better illustrates the rise of the mega ships- and the demand for more and more balconies- than the sudden fall from grace of several once storied names in the maritime firmament.

Currently languishing without comment or interest for several months are the MSC Melody of 1982, and the Ocean Countess, late of Cruise and Maritime, and best remembered as the original Cunard Countess of 1976. While there is no doubt that both ships would make ideal acquisitions for short, destination intensive cruises- such as those operated by Louis, for example- the lack of apparent buyer interest has to be worrying. Both of these ships surely have a few years left in them at least.

What really brought home the true state of play was the tragic scrapping of the 1984-built Atlantic. Here was a beautiful ship, doomed and dragged to her death simply because she was built as a steam turbine ship. Five or six years ago, some enterprising company would have thought little of buying and re-engining this smart, stylish vessel. Instead, she is being recycled to make razor blades.

It’s a worrying trend. After her 2008 sale to Louis fell through, the former Norwegian Dream endured almost five years of warm layup, before being finally revitalised this year by sister company, Star Cruises, as their Superstar Gemini. We’re not talking about some antiquated old dowager here; the ship was built in 1992, lengthened in 1998, and has at least a few dozen desirable balcony cabins.  Yet still, she has endured five wasted years.

Also currently in limbo- and of the same vintage- is the pretty little ship that was the original Superstar Gemini, now known as the Gemini. Also built in 1992, this ship- the twin sister of Fred. Olsen Lines Braemar- was last heard of being used as an accommodation ship for the 2012 Olympic games, based in Tilbury, where I saw her last October. Again, she would be an ideal choice for Louis.

Classic styling on the Orient Queen

Classic styling on the Orient Queen

But it’s not all doom and gloom. To the amazement of just about everybody in the maritime community, the former Classic International Cruises fleet has made the most amazing comeback since Lazarus, or even Take That. Against all the odds, the oldest quartet in maritime history- the seagoing equivalent of the Rolling Stones- is being lovingly restored and prepared to sail again, under the hopefully benevolent banner of Portuscale cruises. The oldest of the quartet- the 1948 built Azores- predates the legendary SS. United States by a full four years.

Few things in the cruise industry are as sublimely contradictory as the way that these ships have gestated, while vessels thirty years their junior are being run onto Turkish beaches like so many gutted carcasses.

In the industry’s headlong pursuit of the newest, biggest and the glitziest, some perfectly good ships are meeting the chop long before anyone might expect. Sadly, this is one trend that I see continuing over the next few years. I hope and pray that I’m wrong on this one.