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.

TRIUMPH RETURNS TO SERVICE

Carnival Triumph returns to service today

Carnival Triumph returns to service today

Amid all the ballyhoo and euphoria of today’s inauguration of the brand new Royal Princess at Southampton, the return to service today of the Carnival Triumph will probably go relatively unremarked upon.

Yet this was the self same ship that last generated Carnival corp it’s last tsunami of press and media attention, when the 102,000 ton ship drifted without motive power for several days earlier this year, following a fire on board. More than four thousand passengers and crew were stranded aboard the Carnival Triumph for several days, and a massive media feeding frenzy ensued.

The fallout from the accident was enormous; Carnival took a huge public and financial hit as a result, and some serious rethinking ensued at Coral Gables. One of the far reaching results of that thinking was last week’s return of former Carnival CEO, Bob Dickinson, in an advisory role. Long acknowledged as a savvy operator and a steady pair of hands, his presence should help to realign the company towards the core concepts that made it the front runner in mainstream cruising.

And today, the Carnival Triumph herself returns to service, embarking on the first of a series of four and five night cruises from Galveston, Texas, to some of the highlights of the western Caribbean. Four day itineraries feature a call at Cozumel, while the five day voyages showcase both Cozumel and Progreso, on the Yucatan.

The ship comes back to service with a whole new raft of fire detection and suppression systems installed. In addition, Carnival has installed a backup emergency generator to ensure that such vital functions as light, sanitation and heating systems can continue to operate in the event of an engine room failure,

Carnival took the opportunity to upgrade the Triumph with the full range of Carnival 2.0 Fun Ship enhancements during her enforced absence from service. The work was carried out at a dockyard in Freeport, Bahamas.

For instance, all cabins now have new beds and bedding, right throughout the ship. A vast amount of new carpeting has been fitted throughout all the main public areas. The line also took the opportunity to add a swathe of new dining and drinking venues.

These include the free for all Guy’s Burger Joint, featuring prime quality cuts of beef; the Cucina del Capitano themed Italian family restaurant, and the Punchliner’s Comedy Club. There is also a branch of the popular Red Frog Bar, with its own, specially brewed ‘Thirsty Frog’ beer, as well as the Blue iguana Mexican Cantina. The popular Alchemy Bar and EA Sports Club will also feature aboard the revitalised Triumph.

Serenity Deck, Carnival style

Serenity Deck, Carnival style

These upgrades go hand in hand with a range of new themed shows that are being rolled out right across the entire Carnival fleet. The revamped Carnival Triumph should prove to be a spectacular floating playground for these short cruises, scheduled to run right through 2014.

Sister ship Carnival Victory will receive a similar, comprehensive series of upgrades next year, as Funship 2.0 is rolled out across the fleet. Interestingly, the next scheduled upgrade is for the Fantasy class  Carnival Imagination in September.

NORWEGIAN EPIC- A BRIEF RETROSPECTIVE

ImageOh, how they hated her. The traditionalists. The vocally indignant. The verbally flatulent. Norwegian Epic raised hackles- and eyebrows- like no other ship I can ever remember when she first debuted in the summer of 2010. Seems a long time ago now.

ImageHer genesis was long, troubled and controversial. It included an almost complete tearing up and redrawing of the building plans when the ship was already under construction, swiftly followed by the cancellation of a planned sister ship. The occasional dockyard fire- suspected sabotage, but never proven- was often the only thing warming the often chilly relationship between Norwegian and the French shipbuilders, STX.

ImageOf course, she was meant to elicit controversy. And boy, did she ever. Especial wrath was reserved for what became known as the ‘Top Hat’; the private area atop the superstructure for the top end penthouses, and their attached restaurants and bars. It looms over the top of the ship. The design has not been replicated in the imminent Norwegian Breakaway.

ImageThen, there were the cabins with the famous curved walls, outside sinks, and separate bathroom/toilet configurations. These also remain unique to the Norwegian Epic and, I suspect, that will continue to remain the case. Some loved them, but many did not.

ImageBut it was strange how those same critics were, and in some cases still are, reluctant to give her credit for some startlingly successful innovations. The block of small, funky interior studios that she previewed have been runaway successes, and great kudos should go to the line for making cruising far more affordable to singles. These cabins- ‘mini me’ hotel rooms- have proved so popular, that they will be repeated in the next three new Norwegian ships. I hope more of them are retro-fitted across the fleet.

ImageSo successful have they been, in fact, that the likes of P&O and- whisper it- Royal Caribbean- have even been shoe horning in small handfuls of single cabins on some of their ships during annual refits. Shipping lines, take note; it’s a start, but not nearly anything like enough.

ImageBut the first thing that struck me about the Norwegian Epic -both at a pre- launch shipyard visit, and on her inaugural press cruise- was her extraordinary breadth. It allowed Frederik Johansson, chief architect for Tillberg in Sweden, to create a run of vast, vaulting public rooms on a series of arrow straight lines that run almost from bow to stern. It also allowed the creation of many more side venues, in the shape of numerous restaurants and bars, that are sleek, tasteful adjuncts to these main thoroughfares.

ImageJohansson also toned down the interiors in comparison to the playful, exuberant palette of the earlier Norwegian Gem and her predecessors. The ship feels far richer and, in places, much more like the transatlantic liners of old. This look is especially true of the Manhattan Room, a vast, New York styled restaurant cum dance venue, with a floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking the stern. You almost expect to hear Xavier Cugat (google him, kids) and his white- jacketed dance band start blaring out salsa at a moment’s notice. It is a singularly lovely room, and will also be reappearing on both the upcoming Breakaway and her sister, Norwegian Getaway, due to debut in January, 2014.

ImageOf course, the new ship unveiled an unheard of string of restaurants. More than twenty of them, with most attracting a not exactly earth shattering fifteen to twenty dollar surcharge to eat there. Understandably, many traditionalists railed at this but, truth be told, the passengers seem to love them. As a trend, extra fee dining is here to stay.

ImageThere were the old favourites, such as French accented Le Bistro and the fabulous Cagney’s Steakhouse, as well as a much enlarged version of the wildly popular Japanese Teppanyaki. But Norwegian took full advantage of the ship’s unprecedented interior handle to try some very new, cutting edge venues unheard of at sea before.

ImageThere was an ingenious, Spiegel style circus tent, with a bite menu and at-table magic demonstrations. The aforementioned Manhattan Room (no fee here, by the way) has dinner dances, and ‘legends’ tributes to the likes of Elton John, Tina Turner and Elvis Presley. There is a fantastic Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Chrurassica, which has been such a success that it, too, will be rolled out onto the new ships.

ImageThe vast, traditional dining rooms of old, with their two settings, have been thrown overboard. In keeping with the company’s Freestlye Dining philosophy, there are smaller venues such as the chic, uptempo Tastes in the lobby, as well as 24/7 comfort food and a typical, pub-style atmosphere in O’Sheehans, with it’s snooker tables, bowling lanes, and the best fish and chips anywhere at sea. Like the enormous, forward facing Garden Cafe, these are all fee-free venues.

ImageDining as entertainment in itself has become an evolving theme at Norwegian, and one it does very well. But the real coup for Norwegian Epic has been in the concept and creation of an entertainment handle unequalled at sea; one every bit as sensational and groundbreaking as that pioneered aboard the Norway herself, back in 1980.

ImageWhere else but in Vegas could you see performances from the world famous Blue Man Group, and without the cover charge? The Epic also has the Moroccan-themed Bliss Ultra club disco, one of the true decorative aberrations in the overall, on board style.

ImageAnother hugely successful idea has been to take the night life outdoors, with the creation of Spice H20. This huge outdoor club looks like a terraced Roman theatre, and looks out over the stern of the ship. it has proved very popular with the late night crowd and, again, it is set to be replicated in the new ships.

ImageBack inside, there is a genuine Ice Bar, complete with freezing shots and fur coats, and a genuinely elegant Martini bar called Shakers, a popular reprise familiar from the previous Jewel Class sisters. On Epic, the planners have done a largely deft, wonderful job of keeping the sedate, sybaritic watering holes away from the more full on, late night venues. All things considered, it is quite an inviting mix in and of itself.

ImageThe huge outer decks are awash with pools, hot tubs, boardwalks and water slides on a stunning scale. Think Coney Island in it’s heyday, but with an up to date, irresistible vibe that majors on fun living out in the sun. Like many other ships of her ilk in this day and age, the Norwegian Epic is not a sedate, leisurely experience during the daylight hours.

ImageThe ship still has her detractors, and she always will. But she has been a tremendous success, spending her winters cruising the eastern and western Caribbean on alternating, seven day circuits out of Miami. Each spring, she crosses the Atlantic to Barcelona to operate a popular, if pedestrian, seven day round trip cruise to Italy and the French Riviera, before returning to Miami in mid autumn.

ImageAnd, though the ship will indeed remain very much a one off, there is a lot to be said for distinctiveness in the often uniform palette of contemporary cruising. Norwegian took some huge risks in building the Norwegian Epic. Some worked brilliantly, while others did not. But the ship has certainly been an inspired leap of faith. Twenty years down the line, it will be very interesting to see just how cruise commentators evaluate this massive, often thoughtlessly maligned ship.