VOYAGE REPORT- CRYSTAL SERENITY

Crystal has become the contemporary bench mark for modern maritime elegance

Crystal has become the contemporary bench mark for modern maritime elegance

I boarded the Crystal Serenity in Venice at the beginning of last month for a week long swing down through the Adriatic, stopping in at Mykonos before transiting the Dardanelles, and finally leaving the ship in Istanbul. It was a frantic, fun fuelled week that neatly balanced magnificent history with a dollop of indolent hedonism, with a couple of welcome sea days in between to allow me to catch my breath,

The cool. marble suffused expanse of the Crystal Atrium was filled with the strains of a violin quartet, swinging lushly through The Blue Danube as I walked back on board. Instead of going straight to the suite, I lingered long enough to grab a maiden glass of glacially chilled champagne. I needed to linger for a minute or so and let it all come back to me.

Since Crystal had come under the auspices of Genting Hong Kong, a series of seismic announcements have unfolded like a string of muffled drum rolls. Crystal is not so much gathering headway, as going to warp drive.New ships, a stunning yacht, a brace of deluxe river ships, and even a pair of opulent air cruises. The mind boggles at the sheer scale of it all.

But a nagging feeling of unease had still gnawed away at me. What would the new regime mean for the actual, current on board experience? How would the Genting hegemony impact on board a pair of ships that I have come to cherish over a decade and a half. Surely change and retrenchment on board were inevitable?

Over the next week, those doubts vanished like sea fret. The on board experience remains as compelling, inclusive and all pervading as ever. Crystal Serenity remains suffused in a patina of care and concern from bow to stern, truck to keel.

Service throughout the ship remains as flawless and timely as ever. The staff are adept at appearing when you need something, yet without falling over the line into being overly intrusive. Of course, the high staff to guest ratio makes this easier, but that very ratio itself is indicative of the mindset originally instilled by Joe Watters from day one. It is heartening indeed to see that Genting understands this. Quite simply, it creates a bond, a contract of sorts between crew and guests that elevates the entire experience into something far more than a ‘mere’ voyage.

Crystal’s cuisine remains peerless; a series of beautifully executed snacks and feasts, running from the simple to the sublime. Whether we are talking about the simply gorgeous chocolate ice cream at Tastes, the dainty little custard tarts at the Bistro, or the succulent, full blown Italian fare at Prego, the Crystal Serenity delivered in spades.

Particularly enjoyable were some amazing, saffron accented lamb skewers served up one night in the Trident Grill. And being able to pick at prawns and lobster while lounging on my balcony as we skirted the coast of summertime Turkey is a level of indolence that is almost stratospheric.

God knows, I looked for signs of slippage in a product- and on a ship- that I know really well. I looked in vain.

The overall vibe on this spacious, supremely comfortable ship remains as upbeat and accommodating as ever. Wonderful live music filled the shimmering Crystal Atrium before and after dinner each night as we surged through some of the most fabled, historic waters on the planet. Banner destinations such as Dubrovnik, Mykonos and Izmir unfolded around us like stunning portals to the turbulent past of one of the most mesmerising regions in the world. And, having been sated and fascinated by these incredible places, we would return to the reassuring welcome of our floating home from home. And, make no mistake, that is exactly what sailing on the Crystal Serenity still feels like.

Over the years, the ship- along with the equally sybaritic Crystal Symphony- has been constantly refined and re-imagined, especially in the public areas. Particularly beautiful is the lounging space under the sliding glass roof of the Trident Grill. Teak decking, liberally sprinkled with plush lounging chairs and sofa groups, is now framed by vibrant climbing walls draped in lush greenery. There is even a small tree draped with twinkling fairy lights that makes for a stunning focal point while enjoying more casual evening fare over dinner.

The classic, on board alchemy achieved by this marriage of space and grace creates a clean, harmonious whole that is, quite simply, without peer. Details delight the eye and lift the spirit. The Crystal experience remains as vibrant and uplifting as ever.

Crystal CEO, Edie Rodriguez, was on board for this voyage. Affable, accessible and hugely capable, she is well aware that the line’s key asset remains the superb Crystal staff that give both ships their heart, soul and personality. From the start, Crystal was a line that hired it’s staff based on their attitude first and foremost. The theory always was that such staff could be trained up to offer the best possible levels of service for the guests then. It was a proven formula, and it remains one that has paid huge dividends for the line itself.

This level of intimately styled excellence, married to superb, quality hardware and a series of carefully thought out, round the world itineraries, is what really marked out the Crystal product of old as a thing apart. Happily, it still does to this day.

In my opinion, Crystal Cruises is the obvious heir to the cherished seagoing traditions of such stellar travel icons as the Royal Viking Line, and even the French Line. And, while it operates in a very different market to those long gone legends, Crystal’s ongoing adherence to those self same, timeless values of care and courtesy garnished with a ‘can do’ attitude, mark it out as a singular, worthy counterpart to both.

As I noted at the start of this piece, one of my concerns was whether or not that vital, all pervasive attitude might have changed under the new regime. After my recent trip on the Crystal Serenity, I can say emphatically say that it has not.

And in a world where hype too often attempts to masquerade as style, that is something that I for one find truly heartening.

DUBROVNIK SET FOR PLATINUM CHIP CRUISE DATE IN SEPTEMBER

With it’s amazingly intact medieval old town and imposing city walls, Dubrovnik is one of the absolute must see ports on the eastern Mediterranean cruise circuit throughout the summer months.

And, while the port is always busy from May through to October, this coming September 8th will witness a platinum chip convocation of cruise ships at the stellar Croatian port- not so much in terms of numbers, but more in standards of sheer, jaw dropping top end luxury vessels that will arrive over the course of the day.

In no particular order, Crystal Cruises’ sublime Crystal Serenity (with yours truly aboard), the sumptuous Silver Spirit of Silversea, Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ peerless Europa 2, Azamara Club Cruises’ immaculate Azamara Journey and the amazing, five mast Royal Clipper of Star Clippers, will all arrive at the port. Between them, these five superb ships are expected to deposit a total of around 2700 guests into the venerable old sea city on the Adriatic.

Of the five, Crystal Serenity will dock in the harbour at Gruz, just a short, two kilometre ride from the old town. The other four ships will lay offshore and tender passengers in to the dock at the bottom of the old town, literally at the foot of the main street of Stradun.

This is a quick and easy process- I arrived in Dubrovnik this way aboard Silver Spirit a few years ago- and, bearing in mind the relatively small numbers involved, it should be pretty much of a hassle free process.

Ease of access to the city itself is generally good, a fortunate fact when you consider that Dubrovnik is now attracting close to a million cruise visitors each year.

While five ships in Dubrovnik is nothing new, the arrival of this particular quintet will be quite something. Of the five, only the Azamara Journey remains on my ‘to do’ list, so this will be like a unique reunion of old friends.

Not to mention, of course, fantastic photo opportunities for all the ship spotters out there.

Stay tuned for a full report, with photos, after the event.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.

VENICE IN WINTER- A PRACTICAL ALTERNATIVE

There’s no question that Venice is one of the most stunning, wonderful and unique cities anywhere on the planet. The fantastic brew of imposing Palladian palaces lining canals sprinkled with gondolas that flirt with the crowds of tourists that throng the streets, winding alleys and vast, imposing squares of La Serenissima, is only part of the charm of this amazing sea city.

Venice is irresistible gelato, café concerto orchestras swinging lushly through Strauss waltzes in the sweltering heat of summertime Piazza San Marco, and swarms of fattened pigeons looming against a flaring purple twilight, as dusk steals across the waters of ancient Guidecca. A million sights, sounds and sensations, all wrapped up in impossibly beautiful- and often painfully overcrowded- surroundings.

And, of course, most people are inevitably drawn to this magnificent melting pot in the long, warm summer months. Add into the mix the regular arrival of several cruise ships, disgorging literally thousands of day visitors into the scheme of things, and you begin to understand why exploring Venice in the summer can sometimes be as much of a trial as a treat.

There is one, potential way to circumvent all this; have you ever thought of visiting Venice in the winter?

For sure, the city will be a lot colder, and at times perhaps even freezing. But consider the vast, serene stance of this amazing sea city, dusted with a fresh blanket of powder white snow, and you begin to comprehend the possibility of something truly magical.

Imagine the vast, magnificent expanse of Piazza San Marco, bathed in the glow of lights shimmering on early evening snow, as bells toll over the great square. Perhaps see a stately, mysterious fog swirling like so many agitated wraiths around the Campanile, the famous bell tower, or the ice encrusted prows of rows of petrified gondolas as they sit stiffly at attention, crying out for the warm sun to thaw them out.

February is also the month of Carnevale (literal translation; goodbye to meat) when the entire city takes on a kind of quasi ethereal feel, and the shades of Casanova and Machiavelli lurk among the winding alleys and cafes thronged by hordes of masked revellers. For those who associate the carnival season with warmer, sunnier climes, the chic, chilly Venetian equivalent would prove to be a truly intriguing contrast, indeed.

So yes, Venice will be cold during winter, and often foggy, too. But the great city out of season is not one bit less magnificent. And, in many ways, she can be even more alluring.

Crowds will be much thinner, so getting ‘up close and personal’ to your must see list of Venetian masterpieces will be a whole lot easier, and infinitely more rewarding. Shorn of her heaving, summer time hugger mugger, Venice is an amazing, medieval theme park, shrouded in bridal white, that still fills your sights and senses with wonders on an epic, ageless scale.

Needless to say, you can always do some of the famous, touristy things right through the winter. You can still enjoy a Bellini in Harry’s Bar, where the legendary cocktail was invented, or take a motor boat across the lagoon to the famous glass making island of Murano. Again, odds are that you can do it in considerably more peace and quiet- a side of Venice that many people simply never get to see, feel, or breathe. And yet, for at least four months each year, this is the reality of life in the city.

Winter reveals the city’s treasures in a different, colder, and yet kinder frame of light. When watery sunshine spills out across the misty surface of the lagoon, the play of light on water can be nothing short of bewitching.

Gradually, yet inevitably, the sun begins to climb higher in the sky. Cafes begin to open out cautiously on the waterfront; the sagging, sodden covers come off gondolas long shrouded against the long winter months. Slowly but surely, La Serenissima blinks herself awake from her mellow winter slumber, and steels herself for the returning throngs that the lighter days and nights will soon bring.

Venice is, and always has been, a city for all seasons. And, like any city, there are pros and cons for visiting at any time of year. The purpose of this blog is to hopefully make you aware that winter, too, offers some wonderful possibilities in this most beguiling of cities. Enjoy!

Venice is most definitely worth considering as a year round destination

Venice is most definitely worth considering as a year round destination

INDOLENT ITALY- DREAMING WIDE AWAKE

Italy. Just say it. It sounds good. It feels exotic. A land as full of temptations as any Venetian coffee house, and one no less surprising in terms of sheer, splendid variety.

Consider wandering the streets of ancient Rome, one of the greatest cities on earth. You can drink Chianti and feast on prosciutto within sight of the hulking, ruined grandeur of the Coliseum, where men once literally fought for their lives, while swarms of scooters buzz past like swarms of maddened wasps.

You could savour the wonderful, indolent dolce vita lifestyle on the Olympian, lemon scented heights of stunning Sorrento, where people watching is an art form in itself. Or you could head down to the waterfront lidos, jutting out like spindly fingers into the azure blue hue of the balmy Mediterranean.

History and hedonism combine perfectly in vast, atmospheric Venice, where a glut of slowly crumbling, cake rich renaissance palaces, churches and theatres line vast, meandering canals where gondolas pout at the masses of summer tourists. Sample a real Bellini at Harry’s Bar, where the famous drink was originally invented, or take in the sounds of a full orchestra as you sip café in the unparalleled elegance of Piazza San Marco.

Something more tranquil, perhaps? Head for the vast, sparkling expanse of Lake Como, where million dollar villas peep out from amid vast tracts of deep, rolling greenery. Savour cocktails on the terrace of some wonderful old Grand Hotel, as the slowly setting sun turns the waters of the lake into  a sea of blazing straw.

For a real taste of Italian flair and style, check out tiny, picture perfect Portofino, a serene sweep of old Italianate architecture in shades of ochre and terracotta, wrapped around a sublime, yacht studded harbour like an elegant charm bracelet. People wearing sun glasses worth the entire national debt of small third world country pick at freshly caught fish and mouth watering paella.

For quirky history, meander up to small, patrician Pisa and gaze in awe at the infamous Bell Tower, the Campanile, shearing a full dozen feet from the vertical. Nearby is Florence, with its fabled Statue of David, world class museums, and the amazing medieval shopping arcade on the old bridge, spanning the mighty Arno.

You could check out the countryside of rustic, rolling Tuscany, with its smart, secluded villas and small, timeless towns, where houses still cluster around the bell tower of the local church as if for safety. Here, life seems to take on a timeless, otherworldly kind of quality.

This is just a small sample in the box of delights that is summertime Italy. Get out there and enjoy them. Live la dolce vita for yourself, and experience the difference between merely existing and truly living. Wonderful stuff.

Pisa

Pisa

GORGEOUS GENOA- A CLASSIC ITALIAN BEAUTY

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa's skyline

The gorgeous Hotel Di Savoia looms over Genoa’s skyline

One of Italy’s greatest ports and also one of the original, hugely powerful city states that pre dated the unification of Italy, Genoa today is a vastly under rated, beautiful city. Awash with gloriously over the top Renaissance statuary and architecture, it has never quite attracted the same level of kudos and amazement as, say, Venice, Florence, or Rome.

Located on the extreme north west tip of Italy, Genoa is almost right on the border with France. A train from here will have you in Monaco in just three hours.

The port has been the epicentre of Italian ocean travels for over a century. All of the great Italian ocean liners- from the Rex and the Conte Di Savoia, through to the Andrea Doria, the Michelangelo and the Raffaello- started their maiden voyages from here. All called this great sea city their home.

Set on a series of rolling hills that cradle a stunning natural amphitheatre, Genoa has much in common with cities such as Lisbon; you see it in the Italianate architecture painted in a riot of pastel shades;  in the vast, overblown monuments to local heroes such as Christopher Columbus, and in the trams that crawl sluggishly into the hills.

But though the city is a riot of undiscovered and extensive glories, modern Genoa is not simply some Gothic theme park. The long, gracefully curving waterfront has one of the most fantastic aquariums in Europe, and literally hundreds of bars and waterfront cafes that brim with life in the long summer days and nights. There’s even the giant pirate ship built for the multi million dollar move, Cut Throat Island, now a popular local attraction.

And, of course, the big ships do still sail from here, too. Year round, the giant cruise ships of MSC Cruises and Costa Crociere  still ghost in and out of the ancient sea city, along with many others. With the gorgeous fishing villages of the Cinque Terre region almost within shouting distance, many big cruise ships use Genoa as a base from which to allow their passengers to explore such famous beauties as Portofino and Alassio.

While there is much to see and savour in those amazing, idyllic little slices of the good life, it is still nothing short of amazing that hordes of arriving passengers still give barely a second look at the swaggering, gorgeous city that actually welcomes them. For far too long, Genoa- or Genova to give her the Italian name- has been a hugely under rated destination in her own right.

And, when you’ve checked out these pictures, you- like me- might be left with one simple question; why?

Genoa's imposing cruise ship terminal

Genoa’s imposing cruise ship terminal

Awe inspiring Genoa

Awe inspiring Genoa

Rich and colourful

Rich and colourful

Italianate echoes

Italianate echoes

Old and even older

Old and even older

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Genoa is at once hilly and heady

Ice cream colors prevail here

Ice cream colors prevail here

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Typical medieval Italian largesse

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

Soaring, spectacular Genoese cityscape

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

The elegant Hotel Di Savoia

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Genoa is elegant and symmetrical

Tram ride

Tram ride

Love these stunning buildings

Love these stunning buildings

Palms and passageway pastiche

Palms and passageway pastiche

Ancient clock tower

Ancient clock tower

Did someone say 'pirate ship'?

Did someone say ‘pirate ship’?

Now that's big

Now that’s big

Genoa is a bustling city

Genoa is a bustling city

Facade of the cathedral

Facade of the cathedral

Want Lions? There you go

Want Lions? There you go

And that's 'arrivederci Genova'....

And that’s ‘arrivederci Genova’….

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.

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.

DISNEY DELIGHTS- MEDITERRANEAN CRUISES IN 2014

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

After a very successful 2013 run, the Disney Magic will return to the Mediterranean next year. The ship, recently extensively refurbished in Cadiz, Spain, will offer a series of four, five, seven, nine and twelve night cruises running from May to September, before making a fourteen night transatlantic crossing back to America.

Disney Magic will offer twelve cruises in all, book ended by a twelve night eastbound crossing in May from Port Canaveral to Barcelona, and the aforementioned, fourteen night westbound voyage in September. Almost all twelve of these cruises sail round trip from Barcelona.

Here’s how the cruises in between break down in terms of length, ports and dates:

FOUR NIGHT CRUISES:

A one off departure on August 7th. Ports of call are Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. One sea day.

FIVE NIGHT CRUISES:

Another one off departure on August 11th, calling at La Spezia, Civitavecchia for Rome, and Villefranche, One sea day.

SEVEN NIGHT CRUISES: 

Five sailings, calling at Villefranche, Naples, Civitavecchia and La Spezia, These cruises depart on May 31st, June 7th, and August 16th, 23rd, and 30th. Two sea days.

NINE NIGHT CRUISES:

Two cruises, this time to the Eastern Mediterranean. Embarkation here is in Venice. Ports of call are Katakolon, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos and Venice (overnight stay). This one sails on June 26th and July 5th. Two sea days.

TWELVE NIGHT CRUISES: 

First itinerary is from Venice, and sails to Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Heraklion, Mykonos, Santorini and Valletta, Malta. A one off sailing on July 14th. Four sea days

Second itinerary from Barcelona. Ports of call are Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Valletta. Another one off, sailing on July 26th.  Four sea days.

Third itinerary is also from Barcelona, with calls at Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Catania, Naples, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice. Sails on June 14th. Note that this cruise ends in Venice. Three sea days.

THE CROSSINGS:

May 19th, Port Canaveral to Barcelona, with calls at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island experience), Funchal, and Malaga, Twelve nights.

September 6th, Barcelona to San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling at Malaga, Tenerife, Antigua, St, Maarten, St, Kitts, San Juan, Fourteen nights.

This is a really good programme of cruises, with something for everyone. A couple of short breaks to allow first timers to decide if the Disney style of cruising is for them without breaking the bank, some excellent seven nighters that include the rare treat of two full sea days, and a trio of cracking twelve nighters that are more or less a complete sweep of the ‘greatest hits ‘of the region. Again, there are enough sea days on these- between three and four- to allow time to recover from ‘cathedral fatigue’.

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

But the daddy of them all for me is the sailing on July 26th, that includes both Villefranche and Mykonos on the same itinerary. Probably the two most beautiful ports in the entire region, it is very rare indeed to see them both featured on the same itinerary.

Freshly upgraded, distinctive, and graced with a stance that is instantly nostalgic, the Disney Magic has more than enough areas for the whole family to eat, rest and play through the pleasure spots of the balmy summertime Med. And the ship is not short of adults only enclaves for when you need a little kiddie-lite time. And some shore excursions are even tailored for adults only in certain ports of call.

It’s also worth noting that the standard cabins on this ship are some of the largest in the industry. That gives you somewhere cool and air conditioned to really chill out when you return from a day spent exploring the hot spots waiting for you ashore.

Altogether well thought out as a programme, and definitely worthy of your consideration.

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS- COMING UP IN THE CRUISE WORLD

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Quite a few things worth noting here, actually, as we begin the long, slow slide into winter. A possible new build. maybe a new cruise line, a big refurb, and some big shifts in deployment are all here in the mix;

AIN’T NO SUNSHINE

After an initially troubled start up following her unprecedented, bow to stern refit, Carnival Sunshine (the former Carnival Destiny) will leave Barcelona on November 1st for a sixteen night transatlantic crossing to New Orleans. With her goes the last deployment of any of the ‘Fun Ships’ in any European cruising region until at least 2015.

Carnival Sunshine will operate seven night Western Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans through April 2014, when she comes around to Port Canaveral to offer six and eight night round trip Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

SERVING UP INDIAN…..

Word is circulating about the likely start up of a new, Indian based cruise line, aimed at tapping the potentially huge local domestic market. Royal Asian Cruise Lines is said to have already bought the laid up Gemini, last used as an accommodation ship at the 2012 London Olympics. The line is also said to be in the market for up to four more, second hand ships of a similar size and vintage.

Final financing arrangements were due to take place in Barcelona this month. The cruise line will initially operate in the Indian Ocean, including the waters around Sri Lanka.

SEABOURN’S FAB FOUR?

Ultra luxury Seabourn Cruise Line is said to be on the cusp of ordering a fourth vessel in the highly successful, 32,000 ton Sojourn class. If so, it will give the line a consistency across the fleet, and a potential depth of world wide deployment that is going to be hard to match. Meanwhile, first of the initial trio, Seabourn Pride, will leave the fleet to join new owners, Windstar, in April next year, with the other two smaller sisters completing the transition in 2015.

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

LOUIS SWINGS SOUTH

With the season for short Aegean and Greek Islands cruises coming rapidly to a close (the last few sailings are in early November)  Louis Cruises is sending two of its ships across the Atlantic on full winter charters.

Louis Aura, currently sailing as the Orient Queen, will be heading for Brazil, to operate a series of itineraries varying in range from between three to seven nights, concentrating mainly on the north east coast of Brazil.

Louis Cristal (familiar to many as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ former Leeward) is off to begin a series of pioneering, seven night fly cruises from Havana, Cuba to the Caribbean. The Louis Cristal is under charter to a Canadian tour operator. Embarkation is also going to be possible for these cruises in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

NOW, VOYAGER

Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Voyager will enter dry dock in Marseille on October 14th  for an eight day refit that will see full refurbishment of the Horizon and Observation lounges with new carpetings, furnishings, and a new bar in each. All penthouse suites will also get a comprehensive makeover.

In addition, all balconies will receive new teak decking, and outdoor relaxation areas will be enhanced with new deck furniture. The Constellation theatre and the atrium will be refurbished with new soft fittings, and marble enhancements.

Carpeting throughout the 708 guest all balcony, all inclusive Voyager will be replaced, and new art works added right throughout the ship.

Seven Seas Voyager is due to resume service on October 23rd, with a ten night sailing from Rome to Venice.

I’ll be on board for that, so expect a more comprehensive appraisal soon after. Stay tuned.

BOARDING OPTIONS ON MED FLY CRUISES- MORE CHOICES THAN YOU THINK

Take a Roman Holiday all your own....

Take a Roman Holiday all your own….

Ah, the Meddy-Go-Round. Those pretty, popular little seven night slices of heaven that pirouette sweetly around the summer time ‘greatest hits’ ports of those balmy. southern European hot spots; Barcelona, Monaco, Rome, Florence, Naples, et al. What’s not to love?

Most people board their ships in Barcelona or Venice, but how many knew that there are other options available to them? For, truth be told, many of these ships can actually be embarked at any of the secondary ports on the circuit. And that, my friends, allows you to tailor make some pretty peachy stay and cruise options if you have the time and inclination.

Such as? Well, why not board the state of the art, ground breaking Norwegian Epic in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, rather than the main hub of Barcelona? That gives you the option of a few pre and/or post cruise days in Italy’s stunning capital of history, art and culture. And, as you’ll then be visiting Barcelona itself in what amounts to technically mid cruise, you’ll also have a full day in the fabulous Catalan capital of cool. While thousands are getting off and on the ship, you can be chilling on the beach with some nicely chilled cava. Sweet.

Costa, MSC, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian all cruise out of swaggering, magnificent Venice during the summer. But anyone who has done this knows how chaotic it can be getting through the city and airport on a busy embarkation or disembarkation day. So why not board the day after instead? Some lines allow you to embark in beautiful, hugely under-the-radar Bari, a sweet little gem located on the southern heel of Italy.

Check out the highspots of Cannes on a Med cruise

Check out the highspots of Cannes on a Med cruise

Take a couple of days to see this glorious place, then board your ship- with far, far smaller lines at embarkation, and then enjoy a full, unhurried day in Venice as everyone else indulges in the pre and post cruise debarkation madness. Quick tip; why not make for the glorious Venice Lido, and enjoy some authentic Italian gelato right on the beach? A wonderful way to while away a few indolent hours.

You could board a ship in pithy, cosmopolitan Marseille, and enjoy a little quality time on the French Riviera before or after your cruise. And Pullmantur, the all inclusive Spanish operator, also allows embarkation in stately, dignified Genoa, a city that everyone should see once in a lifetime.

Most cruise lines will be happy to tailor make a package for you that will cover flights, hotels, transfers and, of course, your cruise. But if you like to do this stuff on your own, then you might find budget flights on the likes of Easyjet, Jet2 and even Ryanair that might save you a packet. It comes down to your confidence in your own abilities to arrange this sort of thing.

Again, if you have standing Avios miles to use with an airline such as British Airways, you might be able to bag a real bargain cruise at a fantastic price. This is especially true for the winter Mediterranean cruise market; a week in the mild January sun might just be the post Christmas pick up that you need.

Whatever, wherever and whenever- just get out there, and have fun. Bon voyage!