PULLMANTUR’S ZENITH IN REEF INCIDENT

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Grand Cayman remains a popular anchor port for Holland America Line, among many others. Photo @antnich

Pullmantur’s cruise ship Zenith was the inadvertent cause of reef damage at Grand Cayman on Tuesday.

The 47,000 ton ship was directed by the local pilot to a government assigned anchor position, where she duly stopped in preparation to tender her passengers ashore for the day.

Scott Prodahl, a local diving instructor, noticed that the water around the anchored Zenith was clouding over- a sign that the anchor chain was chafing against nearby coral. He subsequently filmed a five and half minute long video of the scene.

However, there is no suggestion from any quarter that the Zenith was to blame for the incident. A Cayman environment official, Scott Slaybaugh, told The Cayman Times exactly that. In evidence, he produced a software tracking graphic that clearly showed the Zenith correctly positioned at her designated spot.

All of this points up the need for proper berthing facilities at Grand Cayman. As of now, all cruise ships have to anchor offshore and then tender their passengers into the centre of George Town.

On many days, there can be upwards of five cruise ships tendering passengers ashore-a state of affairs that has increasingly exasperated all the major cruise companies for over three decades.

In October, the government finally gave the go-ahead for construction of the first, purpose built cruise terminal at Grand Cayman.

But even that is nowhere near enough to handle the huge volumes of winter traffic at this Caribbean hot spot, and there are still environmental concerns around the subject that need to be thrashed out at a local level.

That said, the unfortunate incident with the Zenith might prove something of a wake up call.

Stay tuned for further news.

POST SALE OF THE CENTURY; CDF TO RETAIN ZENITH

Changing horizons for Crosieres De Frances?

Changing horizons for Crosieres De France?

Following the sudden and unexpected sale of the Celebrity Century to Chinese interests, there has been some pretty hasty scrambling about at the offices of the French company, Criosieres De France.

The French satellite of Royal Caribbean had been slated to receive the veteran, 1995 built mega ship to join its smaller fleet mate,  Horizon. This would leave the way clear for Zenith to be returned to Pullmantur, its Spanish counterpart.

The sale of Celebrity Century to China has effectively torpedoed all that. Plan B is now in effect.

Hence, Zenith will now remain with CDF to sail alongside her twin sister and one time former Celebrity fleet mate, Horizon. Passengers that were booked on Celebrity Century will be offered ‘alternative or better’ accommodation on the Zenith instead.

The big question here is; ‘how’?

At 47,000 tons and with a capacity for around 1,830 passengers each, neither Horizon or the 1992 built Zenith has anything like the passenger space of the 72,000 ton, 1995 built Celebrity Century, never mind the facilities or the entertainment handle. The whole idea of sending Century to CDF was to give that line a significant upgrade in terms of passenger offerings.

That has now gone. And, although the Chinese deal no doubt makes more financial sense from the point of Royal Caribbean, I have to wonder how potential passengers of CDF view their treatment by the parent company. I’d guess that some, if not many, will be less than happy.

And, of course, there is a knock on effect for the Spanish brand, Pullmantur, which was claiming to be able to field a ‘six ship fleet’ by 2016. Presumably, they were banking on the promised return of  Zenith as part of that plan.

At present, Pullmantur consists of a trio of illustrious, ex Royal Caribbean stalwarts; Empress, Sovereign and Monarch. While I can well envisage Majesty Of The Seas being made available to the Spanish line in the next year or so, that still leaves them two ships short for their planned expansion. It is difficult to see where another pair of ships would come from in the current market.

This is all a bit of a merry-go-round, and it seems to be very much a case of making mend with whatever is available. It is also potentially counter-productive for the still shaky European subsidiary market in the long run; after a long, and still far from over recession, a period of stability and retrenchment is what both CDF and Pullmatur need.

What chance of that, now?

As ever, stay tuned.

CDF (NOT) TO ACQUIRE CELEBRITY CENTURY (UPDATED)

CNV00198French sources are reporting that the 1995 built Celebrity Century will transfer over from Celebrity to the French Croisieres De France line in 2015.

This will give the Royal Caribbean affiliate a trio of ex- Celebrity vessels. The line currently operates the 1990 built, 48,000 ton Horizon. She will be rejoined in 2013 by her 1992 built sister ship, Zenith, which is currently sailing for Pullmantur.

Celebrity Century has spent her last few seasons alternating between the Caribbean, and summer Alaska cruises. Her disposal has been bruited for a few years now, though Celebrity has continued to constantly invest and upgrade its first true mega ship.

Built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany and delivered towards the end of 1995, the then Century was the first of a similar trio. The 71,000 ton ship was followed by two slightly larger siblings, Galaxy and Mercury. Collectively, this trio raised the bar substantially in terms of the luxury mega ship experience, with their excellent service, cuisine and facilities putting them not far below the deluxe small ships in terms of the product offered on board.

Particular emphasis was placed on the quality and placement of on board art works at the time. All three ships went a huge way towards making Celebrity a world wide brand, before the line’s annexation  by Royal Caribbean in 1998. With extra large cabins and exquisite decor, these vessels were very much the benchmark for the subsequent Millennium class sisters that followed them.

When Galaxy and Mercury were passed on to the affiliated TUI Cruises, it was apparent that the older Century was also on borrowed time as a Celebrity mainstay. Despite this, she was given a major rebuild, with several hundred cabins enhanced with new, private balconies, as  well as incorporating successful signature elements that had proved popular on succeeding new classes of ships.

As far as Celebrity Cruises is concerned, the Century will always remain a seminal, groundbreaking ship. Deployed over the course of her career to most cruising regions in the world, she remains a ship that still has a huge amount to offer the cruising market.

Transferring to CDF, she will be the first, truly big French flagged passenger ship since the legendary SS. France of 1962. As such, she becomes part of a continuing tradition of French maritime excellence that includes such storied names as Ile De France, Liberte and, of course, Normandie.

While no itineraries have yet become public, the renaissance of this already fabled ship under the French flag will be welcomed by many shiplovers and bon viveurs around the world. I wish this great and beautiful lady bon voyage, and many more years of happy, highly styled adventures.

DECEMBER 28, 2013: The transfer of Celebrity Century to Croisieres De France, originally denied after the initial publication of this piece, has now been confirmed. She will replace the smaller, less balcony laden Zenith from April of 2015.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2, 2014: You can disregard all of the above. It was today announced that Celebrity Century has, in fact, been sold to Chinese interests effective of April, 2015. What effect this will have on possible future fleet dispositions for Croisieres De France is as yet unannounced. 

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? SHIPS YOU LOVED, AND THOUGHT YOU HAD LOST……

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

Sovereign of the Seas is now sailing for Pullmantur as the imaginatively monickered Sovereign

There are quite literally millions of people who love to travel on the big, fun filled floating theme parks of today. More, in fact, than at any other time in history. And that figure is still rocketing skywards; fuelled by cheap fares, excellent value, and the arrival of a continuous conga line of new builds, each one seemingly laden with more time killing (and money costing) on board diversions than ever before.

But if your cruise history goes back a decade or two (or, whisper it, even three), then the ships you first cruised on will have been very different in style, concept, and probably size. The new blood of today is descended from a long line of much smaller ships, many of them fondly remembered for their big personalities and fun, on board vibe. As new ships came on line, these smaller, less gimmick suffused little gems seemed to vanish like Atlantic fog.

Ah, but did they?

You would be pleasantly surprised- and in some cases, no doubt, delighted- to learn how many of ‘those you have loved ‘ vessels are still sailing for other operators. In some cases, they are into their third or fourth lives. And, amazingly, they are still giving pleasure to an entire new generation of new passengers. PSo, put on your deck shoes, put down your pina colada (for now), and let’s take a little walk down memory lane….

Remember Carnival’s first string run of mega ships from the mid eighties; Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration? Well, all three are still very much out there. The former Jubilee is now sailing in the Chinese domestic market, under the name of Henna. The Holiday and Celebration have been reunited at Iberocruises, the Spanish speaking offshoot of Carnival. Little changed, they sail these days as the Grand Holiday and Grand Celebration respectively.

Royal Caribbean had some of the most famous ships of all in the late eighties and early nineties; if you remember the sprightly little Nordic Empress, you’ll find that she’s still sailing for Spanish all inclusive operator. Pullmantur, under the name of Empress. Also with Pullmantur are the former Sovereign of the Seas, now called Sovereign, and the Monarch of the Seas, now styled simply as Monarch.

The company also used to run the squat, stubby little Viking Serenade out of Los Angeles on short trips out to Ensenada, Mexico. She, too, lives on, as the all inclusive Island Escape, and she’s now with Thomson Cruises.

Celebrity Cruises was the true wonder kid on the block in the early nineties, with a pair of stylish, 45,000 ton sisters- Horizon and Zenith- that became bywords for culinary excellence and sheer, outstanding style. For over a decade, these lovely twin sisters were the brightest stars on the summertime New York to Bermuda run.

After being apart for several years, the two sisters, still bearing their original names- have now been reunited under the Croisieres De France banner, a French operation that has them operating summer Mediterranean cruises, and winter voyages in the Caribbean.

Still missing some ships? There will be an update to this piece. Maybe even two.

Stay tuned…

PULLMANTUR THINKS BRITISH…

In a move to attract more British passengers to it’s all inclusive cruise product, Spanish operator Pullmantur has appointed London-based Major Travel as it’s first ever UK GSA.

Major has produced a short, glossy brochure outlining European sailings on five ships, processedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA for the first time as complete fly/cruise packages. These range from a handful of three night cruises from Marseilles on Horizon, to week long circuits of the western Mediterranean on Sovereign and Empress.

Highlights include:

*  A series of seven night western Mediterranean sailings running through to November, on both Sovereign and Empress, with embarkation at ports such as Palma De Mallorca, Rome and Barcelona (The Pullmantur website also offers Genoa as an embarkation port for Sovereign)

* Greek Islands cruises aboard Zenith, sailing round trip from Athens on seven night Aegean itineraries though until the late autumn.

* Three and four night mini cruises on Horizon, sailing to the Balearic Islands from Marseilles through to November.

The Pullmantur product is all inclusive, with pricing that makes it among the best buys in the travel industry. The Spanish operator is an offshoot of Royal Caribbean International.

It’s ships are all ex- RCI/Celebrity tonnage. Horizon and Zenith were the fondly remembered, initial new builds for Celebrity. At around 45,000 tons each, they are a nice size for the kind of port intensive, destination based cruises that Pullmantur promotes.

Empress is around 42,000 tons, and was originally built as the Nordic Empress for short cruises to Bermuda. Her spectacular, aft facing main dining room is still one of the most beautiful rooms of any ship at sea.

Sovereign is the pioneering, former Sovereign of The Seas, the first RCI mega ship. With a gross tonnage of 73,000, she has a larger entertainment handle than the other ships. She is slated to cruise from Brazil during the winter season.

Pullmantur recently also acquired the 73,000 ton Monarch, the twin sister of Sovereign. While not featured in the short initial brochure from Major, she will operate year round southern Caribbean cruises, embarking in Aruba. These will also be all inclusive.

Pullmantur’s new brochure is aimed at families, groups and seniors, but mentions no single supplements. All ships offer two sittings for dinner, and run as multi lingual vessels.

Though these ships do not have the facilities or stacks of balcony cabins typical of Costa and MSC, the price point makes for a very attractive product indeed. Now showcased with flight packages and transfers, it will be interesting to see what momentum the company can make in the over tonnaged Mediterranean market.

It is also worth noting that Major Travel packages some of these cruises with a range of attractive, pre-cruise hotel packages in key cities such as Barcelona.

Methinks this is one to watch.