Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Happy Cruise New Year!

We all look forward to a New Year in one way or another but 2010 promises to be better than most, and not just because the financial and economic scene shows signs of getting back on a healthier, even keel.

As I have already written, there is an amazing variety of new ships to anticipate, with several that should be genuinely ground-breaking (notably Oceania's Marina and NCL's Norwegian Epic).

There should also be plenty of good deals to be had, too, as cruise lines look to tempt people back to sea-going holidays after the recession-hit days of 2008/09 (so be sure to check with our sister company The Cruise Line Ltd for all the best offers - and look early and often in January as many lines are already flagging up their New Year 'Sails'!).

There is also more focus than ever before on attracting first-time cruisers to this holiday style, with companies big (like Royal Caribbean, NCL and P&O) and small (the likes of Compagnie du Ponant, Pandaw Cruises and Hurtigruten) putting out some tempting campaigns to lure newcomers.

In fact, the appeal of the small, deluxe, niche operators like Ponant and Pandaw should be uppermost in the minds of those looking for that 'something new' factor in 2010.

One I am especially looking forward to investigating for the terrific feedback they have already generated in a relatively short time is Chilean specialist Nomads of the Seas and their unique ship the Atmosphere (pictured above).

The appeal of touring the majestic Chilean fjords in the company of this ship's purpose-built style is immensely appealing and should be one of the highlights of the year for us at World of Cruising, so stay tuned for our report in due course.

I would especially recommend taking a look at their website, http://www.nomadsoftheseas.com/, for those who really want to get off the beaten cruise track, enjoy some of the world's most spectacular scenery and wildlife, sample the tastes and culture of a truly unique region and do it all in some of the highest quality possible in the 'soft' adventure-cruising category.

Can you tell I'm looking forward to 2010?!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Great choice for 2010

We're accustomed to a wonderful variety of new ships to look forward to each year, but 2010 promises to deliver an absolutely bumper crop of newbuilds, as much for their variety as anything else.

From the 150,000-ton Norwegian Epic (above, with its Aqua Park) and the 220,000-ton Allure of the Seas (sister to the recent Oasis), to the boutique little Independence of American Cruise Lines (3,000 tons) and the chic Le Boreal of Compagnie du Ponant (10,600 tons), this is a line-up that truly offers something for everyone.

The year starts with the latest vessel for Costa Cruises, the Costa Deliziosa, a sister to the Luminosa and the second in this intermediate class of ship for the Italian-based line. MSC Cruises then add the MSC Magnifica, the fourth in their Musica-class vessel, and their 10th ship in all. Quite an upgrade on their traditional, three-ship fleet of just nine years ago!

Celebrity follow up with Celebrity Eclipse in April, the third in their growing and impressive Solstice-class, and, in the same month, P&O Cruises add their biggest ship to date, the 116,000-ton Azura.

May should be a big month for small-ship lovers, with the arrival of the Independence to boost their unique style of American river and coastal cruising. This will be the third vessel of this style and it is obviously proving a big successful with those who enjoy their cruising small-scale.

Le Boreal is the other attractive smaller option, with a truly sumptuous new look for this chic French line. Well worth considering in 2010.

The pace doesn't slow down in June, though, as we welcome the huge Epic of NCL (their biggest-ever ship) and the Seabourn Sojourn of the Yachts of Seabourn, who made a huge splash (ho, ho!) in 2009 with their Odyssey, a ship hailed as a real 'game-changer' in the deluxe end of the cruise market.

Holland America join the newbuild party in July with their Nieuw Amsterdam, an old name for their latest and possibly their smartest (and the fourth ship actually to bear that name) to date. A sister to the Eurodam, this will be the 81st vessel to enter HAL service. Quite a run!

The autumn sees the arrival of Allure of the Seas, and the second of the mind-boggling Project Genesis series of Royal Caribbean. Our World of Cruising magazine hailed Oasis as 'the world's first space ship' recently, as a tribute to both the space-age look and huge amount of space involved in this vessel, and Allure should provide more of the same. Or, as I said last month - It's a cruise ship, Jim, but not as we know it!

One ship which I will be eagerly awaiting is the new Marina of Oceania Cruises in October, with this smart, upmarket line promising to deliver a mid-range ship full of innovation and style and providing a real challenge to the ultra-deluxe lines but with a slightly lower price tag. Definitely one to watch.

Finally, venerable Cunard will debut their latest offering the new Queen Elizabeth toward the end of the year, a 92,000-ton vessel that will maintain the line's great tradition but build on the modern styling that the Queen Victoria showed us last year, or 'the gracious new Cunarder,' as they like to say.

So, if that little lot isn't enough to get everyone excited about the possibilities for cruising in 2010, I don't know what will.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy Cruise New Year!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ralph Lauren Takes To The Seas!

Taking a new approach to interior design, Oceania Cruises will be the first line to offer their top suites completely appointed from furniture and fabrics from the acclaimed Ralph Lauren Home collection when their Marina makes her debut next year.

In a smart industry first, Oceania tapped New York-based Tocar Interior Design because of the award-winning partners’ familiarity with the Polo Ralph Lauren aesthetic. Susan Bednar Long, co-founder and president, previously oversaw the decoration of flagship retail stores for Polo across North America while Christina Sullivan, co-founder and vice president, began her career at Polo in the store design department, where she launched Double RL Collection Shops across the US.

Oceania president Bob Binder explains: “To appeal to discerning travellers, we wanted the best suites on Marina to feel like a luxurious estate home. We thought out-of-the box, insisted on the finest craftsmanship and sought out the most talented residential designers. Tocar has designed the first suites at sea exclusively using furnishings from Ralph Lauren Home.”

So here's what we can expect, taking the details from Oceania's full press release this week (and, if they are only half as good as they sound, this will among the most premium accommodations anywhere at sea):

The three Owner’s Suites on board Marina are unlike any luxury suites at sea. Upon entering the foyer, guests will be struck with a sense of awe, as though they have entered an opulent estate home. Walls of inset Georgian wood panelling are finished in an ivory gloss. Art niches on either side are framed with polished stone and mirrored to reflect the statuary. An ivory marble entryway with a David Hicks inspired black and camel mosaic tile inset is surrounded by plush black carpeting trimmed with a polished nickel metal edge.

The foyer also contains a mahogany gloss bar with three ivory leather and chrome stools, stately burnished silver armchairs covered in faux crocodile and brown and white faux zebra skins and an oversized ivory brocade and black satin chaise in front of floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping ocean vistas. An ebony baby grand piano serves as the room’s focal point while a brilliant alabaster and polished nickel chandelier hangs overhead.

Guests will spend most of their time in the spacious living and dining room, which exudes the rich, clubby and refined elegance of a world-class yacht. Macassar ebony-veneered chests with silver hardware topped by faux Zebra-framed mirrors flank the entrance. Walnut herringbone wood flooring rings a field of camel carpeting with an inset chocolate border. A full wall of windows affords uninterrupted aft views.

A camel-coloured, suede L-shaped Modern penthouse sectional is prominently positioned in the corner. To its side is a mahogany Anglesey end table and oversized Mayfair-tufted armchair upholstered in coffee-brown velvet; the Planar-brushed stainless steel and acrylic coffee table centres the seating area. A 42-inch flatscreen TV mounted atop a striking nickel and mahogany entertainment centre is anchored by a black teak and nickel Aldgate étagère.

An elegant mahogany Mayfair dining table with smooth caramel leather Clivedon dining chairs affords seating for six, topped with a classic candelabra chandelier finished in nickel that completes the dramatic dining area.

Wraparound teak-covered verandas feature stylish pieces custom-crafted from Ralph Lauren in white marine lacquer suitable for outdoor living.

For restful nights at sea, the Tocar designers used ivory wainscoting and plush silvery grey carpeting to set the stage for the high-style and luxurious bedrooms of the Owner’s Suites. The walls above the wainscoting are covered in Austyn cashmere and all windows and balcony doors are dressed with ivory wool sheers and silver drapery panels in a shimmering, silk/cotton blend.
The bedroom’s centrepiece is the distinctive, Bel Air bed in a deep, library mahogany – its headboard, footboard and side rails upholstered in steel-blue mohair with polished nickel nail-head accents. To its left and right are City Modern bedside chests with stainless trim and hardware, finished in rosewood mahogany. Night-stands are topped with Faceted Crystal Prism lamps with white silk shades. A custom ceiling fixture in polished nickel with teardrop glass balls provides overhead boudoir lighting.

A Mayfair mirror with a burnished silver-leaf frame and bevelled glass adorns one wall, framed by polished nickel sconces with white-pleated silk shades. Across the room is the Ralph Lauren Highbridge desk featuring stainless steel sawhorse base with glass top and Noble Estate side chair upholstered in camel wool seat base with contrasting ivory ribbed seat back and polished nickel nail heads. A Noble Estate settee upholstered in taupe leather with polished nickel sabos and two Hasley slipper-chairs upholstered in a light gray cashmere wool blend provide additional seating.

Throw pillows upholstered in both silver textured fabric with contrasting ivory cord and ivory brocade pattern with contrasting blue double-fringe trim add to the elegance.

The finishing touch on this grand boudoir is a marble, six-fixture master bathroom with both a separate shower and large soaking tub. The whimsical mahogany double vanity is topped with double portholes and accented with nickel ceiling-mounted round pivoting mirrors and Ralph Lauren’s classic small sconces with silk fabric shades.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Previewing French Flair

It has been a busy week for the Veness Inbox. The PR releases came in thick and fast from Monday onwards, with news of Cunard about their forthcoming onboard 'Insights' lecture programme on Queen Mary 2 for 2010; Azamara Cruises and their rebrand to Azamara Club Cruises; P&O Cruises adding the small-scale Adonia to their fleet in 2011; and, my favourite, the latest information on the new ship from the chic Compagnie du Ponant company.

Going though them in order provides an interesting take on how the lines view themselves. For Cunard, it is all about providing that 'elite' touch with the kind of guest speakers who wouldn't be out of place at an Ivy League university. Human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the 'highlight' of a lecture programme that also includes author and broadcaster Bill Bryson and comedy script writers Dick Clement and Ian le Frenais.

The following day came news that the small, upscale brand in the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd stable will now be known as Azamara Club Cruises in a relaunch aimed at giving them a more distinctive style that incorporates an 'immersive' approach to their destinations, including a lot more overnight stays, 2-day excursions and late-evening departures. Their new tagline is 'You'll love where we take you' and the more luxurious approach will include more all-inclusive aspects (like wine with meals, all gratuities and free bottled waters, specislity teas and coffees) and enhanced service.

P&O are insisting that 'small is beautiful' for them in announcing the 2011 arrival of Adonia (currently the 710-passenger Royal Princess of sister line Princess Cruises). This will be easily the smallest ship to sail for the UK cruise line since the 1970s and, as an adults-only ship (no children under 17), adds to the alternative face of P&O as opposed to their growing big,-ship, family-orientated offerings.

Adonia will begin sailing out of the UK from May 2011, and managing director Carol Marlow made some interesting comments with the announcement, insisting: “The addition of Adonia will deliver an elegant and welcoming ship with real small-ship charm. She will offer a truly intimate and traditional cruise experience, yet with all the comforts you would expect from a modern vessel. With this size of ship, our passengers will be able to get to know their fellow cruisers and crew easily as they travel to some of the most intriguing destinations on the map.

“Whilst larger ships have their own appeal, with the spectrum of bars, dining and entertainment choices they can offer, others really enjoy a smaller ship, with its more intimate ambience. No other cruise line offers this breadth of choice specifically for the British cruiser.”

And then there is Compagnie du Ponant. The French line have existed quite comfortably in relative isolation since 1991 as a niche operator with two small. contrasting vessels (three since 2004), one under sail and one more traditional, if still modernly stylish. The addition five years ago of the former Song of Flower of Radisson Seven Seas moved the company a step closer to the cruise mainstream and then, in 2008, they announced a decision to add a LOT more substance to the fleet with two 10,700-ton super-yachts.

The first of these, Le Boreal, arrives in May 2010, and du Ponant have announced the captain will be their highly-respected master mariner Jean-Philippe Lemaire, one of the company's longest-standing employees. The 132-cabin vessel, which will have an ice-hardened hull for Antarctic cruising, will be his fourth ship of the line, but the first major new project under his command.

He says: "I am very proud to have the privilege to captain Le Boreal for her first sea miles. It is exciting to be involved in a project which combines 'new technologies' with respect for the great maritime tradition that has made the reputation of the company. With all the conviviality of an intimate ship and French sophistication, Le Boreal is joining a Yacht Cruises tradition.
"From the shores of the Mediter­ranean to the boundaries of the great white Antarctic continent, we will be welcoming on board inquisitive travellers, eager to distance themselves from the well-trodden maritime routes. As her Captain, the challenge will be to perpetuate the 'spirit of Le Ponant' which drives our crews and never fails to seduce our passengers.”

It is an intriguing proposition. A line which has largely eschewed the cruise mainstream but which will have to at least touch upon it to find new passengers for their French flair. But, if they are able to translate the company's existing maritime joie de vivre to the newcomer, they should be able to command a lot of respect and offer a wonderful addition to the growing trend for small, upmarket cruise operators which offer that 'something different' factor for the well-travelled. Definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Seabourn Get Smarter

It has been quite a year for the Yachts of Seabourn, with the launch of their much-heralded and admired Seabourn Odyssey and now a major makeover project for their three existing ships, Seabourn Spirit, Pride and Legend.

Never ones to rest on their laurels, it seems (especially with the Seabourn Sojourn arriving in summer 2010), the company has officially kicked off a multi-million dollar renovation of the original trio of its award-winning, small-luxury fleet.

The Spirit has just completed the refurbishment while Pride and Legend will undergo the same treatment in the coming year (January and autumn 2010 respectively), transforming the look and feel of each vessel with open and airy interiors, modern embellishments, and richly-coloured contemporary on-deck furnishings.

It is all in keeping with bringing the overall standard up to the new level which their latest newbuilds have brought about with their arrival this year.

Seabourn Spirit came out of drydock a couple of weeks ago,” said Seabourn President and CEO Pamela Conover, “and the response of our guests, both multi-repeaters and first-timers, has been unanimous — the Spirit looks absolutely beautiful.”

The renovation programme is being overseen by RTKL Associates Inc. in Miami, an award-winning international design firm recognised for its creative approach to commercial and residential spaces. The extensive work is also being done during regularly scheduled periodic maintenance.

All the enhancements begin in the Reception Lobby with honey-toned wood panelling, two-toned marble flooring and furnishings re-upholstered in rich burgundy. The onboard entertainment spaces also shine, with the main show-lounge transformed with cut-velvet banquettes in muted blues and taupe chairs beneath glittering stars. In The Club, floral-motif carpeting plays off warm reds and burnt oranges while elegantly toned, matte stone panels invoke spaciousness throughout.

That play of colour and comfort continues in the observation lounge, where wrap-around windows illuminate new pale-green accents and soothing creams and beiges with the ever-changing light of sea and sky. New club chairs and sofas of creamy leather are inviting perches for taking it all in, accented with leaf-patterned throw pillows that echo the foliage theme in the carpeting.

In The Restaurant, celebrity Chef Charlie Palmer’s cuisine is now presented in a rich yet understated elegance of handsome toffee-toned woods, creamy caramel accents, dramatic sheer curtains striped horizontally in violet and gold interspersing muted purple drapes, and flooring finished in sumptuous golden stone with sage infusions.

Meanwhile, the open decks are going equally modern, with graceful new furniture of coffee-hued, powder-coated metal and chocolate-toned fabric.

Conover added: “The renovation of Pride, Spirit and Legend ensures guests will be enjoying the Seabourn experience on these unique vessels in a fresh, contemporary style. With our original three yachts scheduled for refurbishment, Seabourn Odyssey enjoying a stellar maiden year, and Seabourn Sojourn scheduled to launch in June 2010, Seabourn can now offer travellers more beautiful yachts in more exciting destinations throughout the year.”

It all serves to underline that the smart deluxe cruise operators are constantly looking to keep their product in that top-of-the-range echelon, and Seabourn will continue to be in the forefront of cruising's leading operators for the forseeable future.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

It's A Ship, Jim, But Not As We Know It!

OK, I've used this line before (when Voyager of the Seas made her debut for Royal Caribbean in 1999) but it's even more true today now the same cruise line have rolled out Oasis of the Seas for all the world to see.

And, while it may be called a cruise ship, there is actually very little connection between 'cruising' and Oasis. High-tech maritime wizardry, yes. Classic, ocean-going voyaging, no. This is something completely new, dramatic and WAY beyond the bounds of normal ships.

The size of the vessel is pretty evident, not so much in her length (only 55 feet longer than QM2, which made its debut in 2004) but her height and width. She towers over everything else in Port Everglades, her new 'home,' and her vast 208-ft beam makes her seem like a truly monstrous proposition (more than twice as wide as a typical 90,000-tonner).

But that is only the start of what is a truly impressive design and engineering achievement. Once aboard, and viewed from most angles either internally or externally, this is even less of a 'cruise' ship and more like something out of Star Trek. The effect of the three main 'neighbourhoods' of the internal Royal Promenade (at 328ft long and 62ft wide, more than 100ft longer and twice as wide as the same feature on Royal Caribbean's Voyager and Freedom-class vessels which first introduced this amazing idea), Central Park and The Boardwalk is absolutely startling, providing the kind of space which is hard to equate with being at sea.

Bold, innovative and eye-catching in equal measure (this is also easily the most photogenic ship anywhere at sea as it is hard to take a bad picture of her - but almost impossible to take one that conveys a proper idea of her size), Oasis provides so much of the 'Wow!' factor that passengers will probably not get their breath back for the full week's cruise!

Just listing some of the inventive and imaginative features on board takes some doing. Take your pick from this little menu:

The Solarium, with its new Bistro feature - perfect for a light lunch or moody dinner.

The split-effect Pool Deck, which offers four main pool areas and a host of clever detail, plus more than dozen Jacuzzis.

The kids' areas - pure heaven for teens, younger children and toddlers alike.

The Zip Line - OK, this may be a touch gimmicky, but it adds an eye-catching 'flying' element over the Boardwalk area.

Flowriders - two this time, doubling the surf-style fun of Royal Caribbean's other ships with this feature.

Izumi Asian Cuisine
- a fabulous casual, contemporary Japanese restaurant.

Dazzles nightclub - straight out of the Roaring 1920s, an elegant, two-storey lounge and music venue.

Central Park - this whole 300ft internal 'park' is a dazzler, with its array of fine-dining options, plus the new Park Cafe, which adds a great choice for al fresco dining for breakfast and lunch.

150 Central Park
, the new superb dinner choice run by young celebrity Chef Keriann Von Raesfeld, with its 8-course tasting menu.

Entertainment Central
- the 'neighbourhood' that featurs many of the nighclubs and other entertainment venues, including the Studio B ice rink with its eye-catching shows.

The Rising Tide Bar - a true original, a bar that 'levitates' on jets of water (a clever optical illusion).

The Aquatheater, which we didn't see in operation but which promises a whole new blend of entertainment and glamorous show-time.

And the (free) Boardwalk Donut Shop (one of my favourites!).

Then there are the 1300-seat Opal Theater, the superb three-storey Opus Dining Room, the 9-hole mini-golf course, the towering signature Viking Crown Lounge, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center (which even boasts its own health-conscious cuisine) and the jaw-dropping two-storey Loft Suites, which show that even the accommodations aboard can be space-age. And there's more, MUCH more, besides.

It is a total package that should appeal to first-time cruisers like never before and ensure cruising's appeal takes on a whole new dimension.

During their many press conferences on board, Royal Caribbean execs were at pains to point out their 'latest and greatest' is one-third Familiar (like the Windjammer buffet dining area and Chops Grille steakhouse), one-third Evolution (with the introduction of My Time Dining, where guests can choose either traditional, fixed dining or a when-you-please time; and the addition of tapas cuisine to the Vintages wine bar), and one-third Revolution (with new venues like 150 Central Park, The Rising Tide Bar, Zip Line ride and more).

But, really, Oasis of the Seas is 100% about innovation and novelty; an attraction in her own right where the connection with 'cruising' is only minimal at best. Once under way and in places like the Royal Promenade and Central Park, you may never know you're at sea.

Is it a bad thing? Probably not. Is it a new way to look at cruising? Most certainly.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

More Degrees from Windstar

WINDSTAR CRUISES INTRODUCES THE NEXT PHASE OF ITS DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE INITIATIVE
** Adding Amenities and Enhancements to Fleet **
Windstar Cruises, has announced to the UK marketplace the latest phase of its ‘Degrees of Difference’ initiative, featuring added amenities and enhancements to its ships, which will be implemented in stages, looking to completion in Summer 2010.

“The next phase of the ‘Degrees of Difference’ initiative will take the ship to a new degree of excellence,” said Diane Moore, president of Windstar Cruises. “Our guests enjoy fine dining, luxurious accommodations, outstanding service, dream destinations and the feeling that they are sailing on their own private yacht. We have both listened to our guests’ wishes and anticipated their discerning needs. With these latest initiatives, we look forward to delivering an experience that continues to raise the bar.”

These new initiatives to be implemented include:

Fine Dining
The Restaurant menus on all three ships will be reinvigorated with innovative new dishes from land and sea, bringing the flavours of the world to guest plates. This unique culinary dining experience will reflect flavours of the destinations that the Windstar fleet visits.

Wind Surf’s alternative restaurant ‘Degrees’ will feature a new rotating menu reflecting the fresh and seasonal preparations of Mediterranean cooking. Other dining enhancements include the addition of a spa dining menu and redesigned menu holders with sleek and elegant lines.

Fine Wines
Wind Surf’s Yacht Club will be transformed into a contemporary wine bar, featuring a selection of luscious California, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand and Australian wines by the glass. On each ship, during each sailing, guests will be able to indulge in special wine tastings featuring crystal stemware by Riedel and led by a sommelier.

Spa Suite Accommodations
For those looking for a retreat for the mind, body and soul, Windstar will introduce relaxing spa suites on Wind Surf. Spa suites will feature special bedding and linens, spa amenities, and credits for certified organic spa services and fitness classes in WindSpa provided by The OnboardSpa Company’s O SPA London.

Relaxation and Fitness Enhancements
All guests will be able to enjoy new rejuvenating poolside spa treatments that will take pampering to a whole new level. From December Spa reservations will be bookable in advance online at www.windstarcruises.com.

Wind Surf’s Fitness Centre and Wind Star and Wind Spirit’s Gyms will receive new state-of-the-art fitness equipment.

Inspired Activities
Water sports enthusiasts appreciate the up-close and personal views of the world’s most dramatic coastlines with Windstar’s complimentary waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, ski-tubing and kayaking from the ship’s aft Marina Deck. Windstar will also be investing in new watersports equipment on all three ships.

The ships’ library DVD collection of feature films has been expanded along with travel, adventure and discovery favorites for guests to use in their staterooms.

This year Windstar’s Signature Collection Host Series returned by popular demand, allowing guests the opportunity to travel with luminaries in the world of food, wine, photography, art and sports. Windstar will continue to offer the programme in 2010 and beyond and will also add enrichment and port lectures on sailings.

Personalized Shore Excursions
Earlier this year, Windstar launched its exclusive Concierge Collection of Shore Excursions, designed to appeal to guests who were looking for extraordinary experiences in Europe and celebrating these destinations in a special way—limited to small groups of 6 to 25 guests. Expanding on this concept and offering personalized service, Windstar will arrange private shore excursions and customized pre- and post-cruise packages for guests. Windstar will also add personal iPod Discovery Walks in Italy, Croatia, France, Greece, Monaco, Portugal and Spain where guests enjoy a guided tour of the destination on an iPod.

Windstar operates a three-ship fleet of deluxe motor-sail yachts combining the magic of sailing under sail with quiet, state of the art engines. The intimate size of the ships, carrying just 148 – 312 passengers, exudes a private yacht-like atmosphere, with no fixed meal times or dress code and a choice of restaurants – including Candles al fresco grill. The size of the ships also affords access to small bays and ports that larger ships cannot reach, allowing guests to explore more secluded spots.

Set Sail for Adventure!

Adventure cruising is promising to become one of the big, growing options for savvy cruisers in the near future, with various types and levels of this expedition-style of voyaging.

The All Leisure Group, who operate Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery and the boutique little Hebridean Island Cruises, have recently taken ownership of the 15,000-ton MV Alexander von Humboldt (originally the Crown Monarch of Crown Cruise Line) , which has recently been sailing or German operator Phoenix Reisen. And, while they have yet to indicate which of their brands it will sail under, it is clear ALG have significant plans to grow this 'niche' market into something not-quite-so-niche.

When you also look at how other adventure/expedition companies continue to do well, the likes of Norwegian Hurtigruten, Abercrombie & Kent, Noble Caledonia, Hapag-Lloyd, Lindblad Expeditions and many more, there is clearly a keen and expanding appetite for this type of holiday.

And now comes a new Dutch operation which promises to add still further to this highly enticing array of cruise choice. Oceanwide Expeditions is offering more small-ship adventuring specialising in polar expedition voyages using the 110-passenger MV Plancius. here's what they say:

MV Plancius – Oceanwide Expeditions’ new Polar expedition vessel is now afloat

This is the start of a new Era in polar expedition cruising: the Dutch flagged expedition vessel Plancius, operated by Oceanwide Expeditions from Vlissingen, the Netherlands, is almost ready to set sail to Antarctica, offering the maiden voyage on 8 January 2010. Plancius shall be christened on 14 November and will depart on 5 December for her ocean voyage to Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego , Argentina , the starting point of Antarctic voyages.

Oceanwide Expeditions: the pioneer in the Polar regions

Oceanwide Expeditions is the pioneer and one of the market leaders in the Polar Regions and has – since 1996 - been offering expedition-style cruises to the Arctic and Antarctic regions with chartered ice-strengthened Russian vessels, very suitable to offer exploratory voyages with passengers. However, in order to increase comfort-standards, Oceanwide Expeditions decided to build its own vessel, complying with the latest safety regulations and technology.

Oceanwide Expeditions: World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operator 2009
We proudly announce that Oceanwide Expeditions has won the World Travel Award 2009 in the category World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operator. The presentation of this international prize took place during a gala performance in London on Sunday 8 November. It was the second time that this prestigious award was categorized by the World Travel Awards Committee. The first time was in 2005 and Oceanwide Expeditions was also the winner of the contest.

MV Plancius: Setting new standards in expedition cruising

Plancius will set new standards to the world of expedition cruising: spacious yet small ship character, comfort & style, modern technology and safety appliances. A base camp for active, adventure and wildlife minded modern explorers, including hiking trips, kayaking, overnight field camping and even scuba-diving.

Plancius was built in 1975 as an oceanographic research vessel for the Royal Dutch Navy and was named Hr. Ms. Tydeman. The ship sailed for the Dutch Navy until June 2004 and was finally purchased by Oceanwide Expeditions in December 2006. The vessel was completely rebuilt and converted to a 110-passenger vessel which complies with the latest SOLAS-regulations (Safety Of Life At Sea) and is classed by Lloyd’s Register in London . The ship sails under the Dutch flag.

It’s a small ship operation: Plancius can accommodate 110 passengers in 53 passenger cabins with private toilet and shower in 4 triple private cabins, 39 twin private cabins (ca. 15 square meters ) and 10 twin superior cabins (ca. 21 square meters ).

The vessel offers a restaurant/lecture room and a spacious observation lounge (with bar) with large windows, offering full panorama view. Plancius has large open deck spaces with full walk-around possibilities, giving excellent opportunities to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. The vessel is comfortable and nicely decorated, but the ship is not a luxurious vessel. Voyages in the Arctic and Antarctic regions are primarily defined by an exploratory educational travel programme, spending as much time ashore as possible.

The vessel measures 89 meters in length (267ft), has a breadth of 14.5 meters (43ft) and a draft of 4.8 meters (15ft) and is equipped with a diesel-electric propulsion system which reduces the noise and vibration of the engines considerably. The 3 diesel engines generate 1.230 horse-power each, giving the vessel a speed of 10-12 knots. The vessel is ice-strengthened and was specially built for oceanographic voyages.

Plancius is manned by 17 nautical crew, 18 hotel staff (6 chefs, 1 hotel manager, 1 steward-barman and 10 stewards/cabin cleaners), 8 expedition staff (1 expedition leader and 7 guides-lecturers) and 1 doctor.


Monday, 9 November 2009

Truly Epic Entertainment!

NCL held their second 'webinar' last Friday (a live seminar on the web) to hail all the new entertainment elements on board their forthcoming Norwegian Epic. And a truly 'epic' array of talent and excitement it turned out to be.

We already know about the six lanes of 10-pin bowling (split into two different venues), the unique offering from the award-winning Blue Man Group that will be one of the feature shows, the Headliners comedy club featuring the Second City company (from Chicago), Fat Cats jazz and blues club and the visionary Cirque Dreams dinner show.

But the latest instalment of 'news' and revelations gave us even more. And it left me thinking that this has to be the most imaginative line-up of entertainment options and original ideas anywhere at sea.

In addition to all the above, the Epic will also boast the Howl at the Moon dueling pianos rock 'n roll show, and the Legends in Concert music tribute show (with performers still to be decided). The former is a fun, lively and interactive (think raucous sing-along!) music show in a club-style setting, with two baby grand pianos providing a continuous parade of rock tunes from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. There are 14 Howl at the Moon saloon locations throughout the US and they are a tried & trusted formula dating back to 1990.

Legends in Concert is a Vegas-style music tribute act that has 7 locations in America (including Atlantic City, Vegas and Seattle) and bills itself as "the world's greatest live tribute show." Their performers mimic the acts of the likes of Tina Turner, Elvis, the Blues Brothers, Cher and Madonna, and the Epic will feature three different acts that change periodically.

The 'webinar' provided quite a bit of detail (and fun - you can listen to it on the Epic website), but a press release today also adds some more detail:

FAMOUS FACES AND ROCK ’N’ ROLL DUELLING PIANOS JOIN NORWEGIAN EPIC
- Legends in Concert and Howl at the Moon Announced -

Live tribute artists and celebrity look-alikes such as The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Madonna, and Tom Jones will feature on NCL’s newest ship, Norwegian Epic, launching in June 2010.

Legends in Concert is known as the world’s greatest live tribute show and has been a staple on Las Vegas ’ centre strip for 25 years, being seen by audiences worldwide.

Norwegian Epic also welcomes Howl at the Moon - the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll dueling piano show that encourages audience participation.

Norwegian Epic has already made headlines with its world-class entertainment offerings, such as Blue Man Group and Cirque Dreams™ and Dinner. Now, with the addition of Legends in Concert and Howl at the Moon, we have raised the bar even higher, taking cruise ship entertainment to a whole new level, on par with major entertainment hubs like Las Vegas and New York,” said Kevin Sheehan, NCL’s chief executive officer.

Sheehan adds, “With their wide range of incredibly talented superstar tribute artists and celebrated entertainers, Legends in Concert will appeal to music fans of all ages, making this a must-see show for our guests. Howl at the Moon gives guests the chance to sing along to music from the ‘70s to today in a highly interactive show.”

Legends In Concert

Legends in Concert on Norwegian Epic will feature three celebrity tribute performers taking the stage in the Epic Theatre for six 45-minute shows over three days during a seven-day cruise. In addition, a cabaret-style show will be performed on three additional nights in the Manhattan Room, the ship’s New York-inspired supper club. The celebrity performers, some of whom come from the UK , will change every four months, keeping the show fresh.

Each Legends in Concert performer looks and sounds like the star they portray. They use their own natural voices, and every detail is taken into consideration from choreography, to hair, make-up and mannerisms.

Howl at the Moon

Performing four times per cruise in Headliners, Epic’s comedy club, Howl at the Moon is a total entertainment experience where the talented piano players not only entertain the guests; the guests become part of the show. The fun is centred around two baby grand pianos and a full out rock show with Howl’s entertainers playing the best music from 70’s rock to hip-hop for four hours per show.

Norwegian Epic arrives in the UK on 22 June, 2010, for a two-night invitation-only inaugural cruise from Southampton . The ship will then cross to the USA where she will sail alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami from July 2010.

The most amazing thing, though? All of this dazzling entertainment line-up (with the exception of the Cirque Dreams dinner show, for which there will be a $15/person surcharge) is absolutely FREE.

So take some time to check out the links and view their webcast. Then get ready to book for an Epic experience in 2010! I know I'm ready .......!

Friday, 6 November 2009

It's An Oasis-Fest!

The UK media has gone overboard (ho, ho) it seems for Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's new record-breaker which is due to set sail with passengers for the first time in just a month.

The "world's largest cruise ship" is currently en route across the Atlantic to Fort Lauderdale and several weeks of hoopla around her arrival before her maiden voyage, with Port Everglades officially dedicating their new Oasis-specific terminal today.

But the newspapers, radio and TV have already decided this is one of the most news-worthy ship launches in modern history, with a positive avalanche of advance material, stories and reports being generated.

Just check this little lot!







Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Is Costa Taking Italian Connection Too Far?

OK, it's fairly evident Costa Cruises are keen to maintain their Italian 'heritage,' despite being owned by the giant Carnival Corporation. But is there any real need to take the names of their next two ships ever more firmly into Italian territory?

To my mind (and eye), the names of Costa Favolosa (2011) and Costa Fascinosa (2012) are just plain awkward and clunky - unless they are intended purely for the Italian market.

Following hard on the heels of Luminosa (May this year) and Deliziosa (January 2010), it is definiutely a trend of Romanesque proportions, and I'm not so sure it is a trend which will sit comfortably with their English-speaking clientele.

Or am I just being Italian-ist?

Media Rubbish!

You have to wonder about the media sometimes (only sometimes?).

The grand new Oasis of the Seas is officially launched into Royal Caribbean ownership and makes its way serenely out to sea via the Great Belt bridge in Denmark.

And this is one of the headlines on a so-called News agency:

‘World's largest cruise ship comes within two feet of disaster on its maiden voyage’

Not the fact the ship successfully negotiated a major (and planned for) navigational obstacle and is now ready for a glittering introduction to the cruise community, with the capacity to grab the attention (and interest) of a whole new range of potential future passengers.

No, the ship came within ‘two feet of disaster’. Not just a bit of a funnel-scraping embarrassment but a major, calamitous failure of life and limb. The world’s largest cruise ship was just moments from another Titanic.

What a joke.

Does anyone in this supposed News agency actually bother to read the drivel they pass off as ‘news’ before they put it out there?

Did they bother to think that Royal Caribbean did actually know where the ship was going, what the possible snags might be and how to deal with them capably and without ‘disaster’?

It just goes to show what you have to put up with when you do something epic and ground-breaking. No matter how successful you think you have been, there is always someone willing to insist that you ‘nearly failed.’

From Cooking to Cage-Diving!

Here's a tempting press release from Crystal Cruises this week, highlighting the amazing range of shore excursions available on Crystal Serenity's grand World Cruise, departing Miami on January 10:

Cage diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. Sicilian-style cookery classes in Italy and paragliding over the Spanish countryside are among the 400 Crystal Adventures in store for guests on Crystal Cruises’ 2010 World Cruise. The excursions, nearly 100 of which are brand new, allow guests to experience destinations in unique ways. Whether atop an elephant in Africa, via race car on a circuit track in the Middle East or by private plane over Spain ’s stunning Basque country, intrepid World Cruise guests will find pursuits for virtually any interest. The 108-night itinerary departs Miami for Southampton on 10th January onboard Crystal Serenity.

In addition to new African safaris and dozens of Crystal Overland Adventures, shore-side highlights include:

High Adventure…

NEW - Race a Caterham in Bahrain
NEW - Explore Iran ’s ancient Persepolis
NEW - See the highlights of Oman by 4 x 4
NEW - Hike Sochi ’s Mount Akhun
Cage dive with great whites

Aerial Adventures…

NEW - Take in Abu Dhabi ’s sites by Cessna
NEW - Helicopter above Durban ’s mountainous landscape
Soak up the Seychelles ’ scenery via helicopter
Paraglide above Barcelona ’s landscapes

Regional Culinary Insights…

Prepare a meal at Lisbon ’s Albatroz Palace hotel
Visit a villa in Catania for a Sicilian cooking lesson
Create Catalan cuisine at a Barcelona cooking school
Learn culinary secrets at a Michelin-starred Sorrento restaurant

Conservation…
Explore an African elephant sanctuary
Visit an Abu Dhabi Falcon care and rehabilitation hospital

As well as maiden calls to Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the World Cruise also visits South America, Africa, India and Europe, visiting 41 ports in 37 countries. The cruise is also offered in 12- to 21-night segments.

Prices for the full World Cruise start from £38,955 per person based on two people sharing a deluxe stateroom with picture window with all meals and soft drinks, port taxes and transfers. Also included are complimentary Club Class flight from London to Miami; complimentary gratuities; seven complimentary shore excursions; two exclusive shoreside events in Abu Dhabi and Ashdod; complimentary bon voyage gala party and $6,000 onboard credit per person.

Friday, 23 October 2009

More River-Cruise Choice

It seems river cruises are definitely the flavour of the month. No sooner do I detail the great advantages of this option compared to their big-ship, ocean-going brethren, than a new operation arrives dedicated to river cruising.

US-based Avalon Waterways is now available to a UK audience for the first time, bringing another array of high-quality riverboats to the attention (and availability) of an interested public. A new British office, website and countrywide marketing, highlight their drive to broaden their passenger base - and make river-cruising even more popular.

To start with, Avalon boast one of the youngest fleets in Europe, with eight boats dating back no longer than 2004 and two more due to come on line in 2010. They feature six main European rivers (Rhine, Danube, Moselle, Main, Rhone and Seine), as well as a range of themed cruises, and their newest six are powered by a state of the art, pod-propulsion, Silent Drive System. Two of their vessels, Avalon Poetry and Artistry, feature aft navigational bridges, which earned them an innovative design award as they allowed for more spacious public rooms and a Sky Deck.

Since their inauguration in 2004, Avalon have earned an enviable reputation for outstanding service, cuisine and onboard style, as well as featuring an attractive array of itineraries from 4-15 days (although most are in the 10-12 day range).

It's no wonder UK Managing Director Alan MacLean says: “Having become the most recognised and fastest growing river cruise brand in the world, we are delighted to launch our first class product on to the UK Market. River cruising is definitely bucking the trend in the recent economic downturn, being enjoyed by a largely recession-proof sector of the population who are prepared to pay for the highest level of quality and service.”

Their staterooms are currently the largest available on European rivers, from 172sq ft for standard rooms to a massive (by river-cruise standards) 258sq ft for suites. Virtually all have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors with French balconies, affording panoramic views of the areas they cruise through. They are also superbly appointed, with state-of-the-art amenities and décor, such as flatscreen satellite TVs, Egyptian super-combed cotton linens and individual climate control.

Their high-class cuisine is prepared by an impressive range of chefs, who include classic dishes and regional specialities, while the full board arrangement includes complimentary regional wine with dinner, taking advantage of the numerous classic varieties to be found close to Europe’s principal rivers.

Importantly, most excursions are also included, with personal headsets provided for all guided tours ashore. To add to the first class experience, Avalon offers complimentary round-trip door-to-home pick-up service in chauffeur-driven executive cars within 75 miles of the chosen international departure airport or Eurostar station.

If all that doesn't tempt you, then wait for the prices, which are all extremely value-conscious, especially for continental Europe (try getting four-star full-board accommodation in Germany, France or Austria for £160 a day!):

Prices for 2010 start from £915 for the five day ‘Taste of the Danube’ cruise on board Avalon Tapestry. Other itineraries include the ‘Legendary Danube’ (Prague-Budapest, 10 days from £1635), ‘Danube & Black Sea Coast’ (Prague-Bucharest, 13 days from £2949), ‘Romantic Rhine’ (Basel-Amsterdam, 8 days from £1369), ‘Burgundy & Provence’ (Cote d’Azur-Paris, 11 days from £1669), ‘European Splendour’ (Vienna-Amsterdam, 13 days from £1789) and the ‘Central European Experience’ (Paris-Prague, 12 days from £1955).

For music and wine connoisseurs there is also a range of themed cruises on specific departures such as the Burgundy & Provence Wine cruise or the Magnificent Europe Music Cruise with shore excursions to include a Strauss concert in Vienna, an organ recital in Melk and a visit to the Opera House in Bayreuth.

Interested yet? It certainly gets my attention, and the Danube & Black Sea Coast would definitely be my idea of a memorable trip. Now, where's their phone number...........!

Friday, 16 October 2009

River v Ocean Cruising

It's a question I hear time and time again - what's the difference between river cruising and it's Big Brother ocean variety?

It goes hand in hand with the alternative version (usually from die-hard big-ship cruisers), why would I want to down-size to a river-boat?

Both are valid queries, but both can be met with an equally emphatic response: river-cruising IS a very different animal to the ocean-going variety, but it also affords a rich and diverse experience that big-ship folk ignore at their peril!

To take the first issue, the difference between the two, requires a lengthier reply, though.

The differences between the two types of cruising are significant but well worth detailing. The obvious issue is one of size - river-boats rarely hold more than 150 people (although the new Victoria Jenna on the Yangtze in China will hold an amazing 378 passengers), and there are far fewer public rooms.

Fewer rooms means less space and fewer frills in terms of big-ship glamour and glitz. You won't find fancy casinos, high-tech Spas (although, again, the Jenna is an exception), elaborate theatres and multiple dining venues. If you're looking for expansive pool facilities, water-slides and rock-climbing walls, this isn't the right choice for you either.

But you will find plush, comfortable surroundings, well-fitted cabins, high-quality fittings and furnishings, and an overall commitment to service and attention to detail normally found only on the more deluxe, smaller-scale ocean vessels.

There is also a substantial difference in pace, both in terms of your actual travel and also of the onboard ambience. River-boats typically procede at a very leisurely speed, sometimes not much above walking pace, and the need for periodic negotiations of locks and other river traffic means you can't count on vast changes of scenery as you can in places like the Baltic and Alaska.

But this also lends itself to a more relaxing and comfortable vibe, with no discernable hustle and bustle, no need to go dashing from one show to another or requirement for lengthy daily activity programmes.

River-cruising really allows you to unwind, decompress from the real world and chill out, in a comfy environment that provides no great demands of time or choice.

Finally, and this is an important distinction as cruise ships get ever larger, it is an immensely personal experience, both in terms of your fellow passengers and the destinations you visit.

The slow pace affords plenty of time to get the know the people around you, with plenty of opportunity for conversation and social intercourse, while at the same time providing an almost slow-motion tableau of scenery and cities.

Cities are also the bread and butter of the typical river cruise, especially in Europe, with the river routes offering all manner of wonderful urban backdrops (as well as fabulous rural scenes).

In France, you can take in the likes of Lyon, Tournon, Viviers and Avignon ; in Germany, you can enjoy a cruise that includes Frankfurt, Mainz, Nuremberg and Heidelberg; further along the Danube, the routes takes in Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Bratislava; and in Russia you can cruise from Moscow to St Petersburg, and unveil some marvellous mysteries along the way.

And that's before you consider the alternative destinations of the Nile, China and Myanmar, all of which can add the a taste of the exotic to the river-cruise experience.

River-cruising is probably not ideal for families with younger children, but for those with children of senior school age (especially those learning a language), it can also be a wonderful opportunity, and for the river-cruise exec who recently stated that his product was not for "the 40-somethings," that is a shocking undervaluing of the possibilities.

Put simply, river-cruising is for those who really like to get under the skin of a destination, to take their time and savour a country, a city or a countryside. It is highly personable and often provides memorable dining. And it reconnects us with our fellow traveller.

There are other reasons why you might want to give river-cruising a try - notably the chance to avoid any vestige of seasickness! - but I'll save those for another day and another argument.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Crystal's 'Experiences of Discovery'

Crystal Cruises announces an inspired collection of 2010 Experiences of Discovery theme cruises designed to enrich more than two dozen Crystal cruises with a special-interest focus. Special classes, events and, in most cases, shoreside options will augment voyages throughout the Middle East, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and beyond.

A new Science & Technology theme joins classic favourites such as Crystal ’s Wine & Food Festival (set for seven cruises, with two back-to-back options), Mind, Body & Spirit, Jazz, Golf, Film & Theatre Festival and Big Band. Additionally, Crystal ’s annual President’s Cruise adds special programming and events in celebration of the line’s 20th anniversary of luxury cruising.

The Experiences of Discovery theme cruises available in 2010 are:

· *NEW* Science & Technology – Guest expert lecturers focus on the world’s latest scientific developments on a winter Caribbean itinerary.

· Emerging Artists – Tomorrow’s stars shine today through Crystal ’s exclusive partnership with The Music Centre Los Angeles, showcasing the brightest talent on two European cruises.

· Wine & Food Festival – World-renowned culinary experts share techniques and specialties on Australia/New Zealand, Mediterranean and Mexican Riviera voyages.

· Mind, Body & Spirit – Wellness experts focus on yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates and general fitness on Asia/Indian Ocean, Mexican Riviera and Transatlantic voyages.

· Golf – PGA pros offer onboard and shoreside tips and play at exclusive courses in New England/Canada.

· Fashion & Style – Personal style consultations with designers and stylists, fashion shows, films and lectures showcase European fashion.

· Film & Theatre Festival – Guest film experts salute film and theatre on a Pacific Ocean crossing.

· Jazz – Live performances and discussions about musical legends jazz up South America and Mexican Riviera itineraries.

· Big Band – Swing to live daily performances, music lecturers, and extra dance hosts on an Atlantic Ocean crossing.

· President’s Cruise – Crystal ’s President Gregg Michel hosts Special Crystal 20th Anniversary events on board and ashore on a Red Sea journey.

Experiences of Discovery programmes complement Crystal ’s exclusive ongoing Creative Learning Institute, which presents language classes through Berlitz, keyboard instruction through Yamaha, and stimulating guest lecturers from the Crystal Visions Lecture Programme.

2010 prices start from £2,365 per person based on a seven-night Mediterranean voyage from Athens to Rome departing 26th May. Price includes return scheduled flights, transfers, seven nights in a deluxe stateroom with picture window with all meals and soft drinks, port taxes and basic gratuities.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Now You Can Rail-Cruise!

I couldn't find this anywhere online, so I thought I would turn this press release on AMA Waterways into a Blog. It should have real appeal to river-cruise fans, methinks.

AMAWATERWAYS, the fastest growing river cruise line in Europe, is offering a new series of escorted European rail-cruise holidays in partnership with York-based Great Rail Journeys. The five new itineraries take the stress out of flying, combining the excitement and romance of First Class rail travel from St Pancras International with the leisurely pace of a river cruise. Itineraries include:

Rhine Cruise – Nine days cruising the Rhine on Amalyra or Amalegro, passing through the beautiful scenery of the Black Forest, the Neckar Valley and the Rhine Gorge. Ports of call or excursions include Breisach, Strasbourg, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Cologne and Amsterdam. The journey starts at St Pancras International, with Eurostar to Brussels and First Class rail through Luxembourg to Basel, returning from Amsterdam. From £1,735 per person, with departures from April to October.

Europe’s Heartland Cruise – Nine days’ travelling including a river cruise on Amadolce or Amacello from Cologne to Trier, via Nuremberg, Bamburg, Wurzburg, Miltenberg, Mainz, Rudesheim, Cochem and Bernkastel. Rail from St Pancras International to Cologne and from Trier is included. From £1,895 per person with departures from May to October.

Danube Cruise – 10 days from Nuremberg to Budapest on Amacello, Amalegro or Amadagio, calling at Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Vienna and Budapest. First Class rail is included all the way from St Pancras International to Nuremberg and from Budapest back to the UK. From £2,195 per person with departures from May to October.

Waterways of the Tsars – 16-day rail-cruise including the Jan Kiepura sleeper train to Warsaw and then the overnight Ost-West Express to Moscow, flying back to the UK from St Petersburg after a scenic 12-night cruise on MS Tolstoy across the Russian countryside, with several days in both Moscow and St Petersburg. From £2,975 per person, departures in July and August.

Rhône & Provence Cruise – Eight days in beautiful Provence, with Eurostar and TGV travel to Arles and from Lyon. The cruise, on Swiss Pearl, takes in Avignon (photo, above), Viviers, the stunning Ardeche valley and Vienne. From £1,949 with departures in September.

Each AMAWATERWAYS cruise includes all meals on board (breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner), unlimited wine with dinner, a daily sightseeing programme, on board folklore and musical performances, bicycles for use in port and free internet access. First Class rail travel is included wherever possible, as well as four- or five-star hotels en route and the services of a friendly and professional Tour Manager.

Steve Williams, AMAWATERWAYS’ representative in the UK, says: “These exciting rail-cruises are the perfect way to travel for anybody who prefers a slower pace of life, which is what river cruising is all about. The fact they are fully escorted makes them ideal for single travellers, those who are less confident travelling independently or, of course, anybody who prefers not to fly. On all these itineraries, the rail element of the journey is an enjoyable part of the holiday, rather than merely a means of getting there. And what’s best, of course, is that there is no need to budget for any shore excursions, drinks with dinner, transfers or meals. With AMAWATERWAYS and Great Rail Journeys, it’s all included.”

Julian Appleyard, Commercial Manager for Great Rail Journeys echoes this sentiment: “We have seen a rapid expansion in our ‘cruising by rail’ concept and have refined our product over the previous two years. We know our customers like the comfort of First Class rail travel across Europe, and once ‘in resort’ four- and five-star hotels are expected. We are therefore delighted to partner with AMAWATERWAYS, a company that matches our own high standards of service and customer care.”

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Early Bird Gets the Bargains!

Holiday companies have accustomed savvy buyers to wait for the best deals in recent years, offering various last-minute and late-discounted offers for those who are happy to hold out for a bargain.

But the cruise world is changing tack, quite literally, with a whole raft of new ideas, offers and incentives that make sure the early-booker gets the best deals.

And 2010 is now the perfect opportunity to put this to the test, with a combination of mouth-watering packages and even, in some instances, a cut-price guarantee that promises any future savings will be passed on. Here’s what to look for.

Great Deals

Luxury line Silversea Cruises offers up to 60% savings and FREE flights and transfers on select 2010 sailings.

The boutique style of Oceania Cruises is offering up to $1,000 off per person if booked by 31 December.

Book with any of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises or Azamara Cruises for 2010 and save up to £400 per suite, with free car parking AND up to $150 per person onboard credit if booked by 30 November.

More luxury? Crystal Cruises have re-priced select 2010 fares, as well as featuring 20th Anniversary Savings and discounts on Mediterranean and Northern Europe voyages, PLUS up to $2,000 per couple onboard credit.

Cruise with sumptuous Regent Seven Seas and enjoy FREE shore excursions and flights on select 2010 dates if booked by 31 December.

Or try Holland America, and receive their Early Advantage benefits of lower rates, first choice of staterooms, savings on hotels and reduced deposits.

How about a river cruise? APT River Cruises are offering 2010 voyages at 2009 prices on their 15-day Magnificent Europe cruise from March-October or FREE flights on selected cruises if booked by 31 October.

The more adventurous may want to try Swan Hellenic’s Best Price Promise, with many published fares for 2010 lower than corresponding fares in 2009, while Voyages of Discovery insist there will be NO fuel or current surcharges after you book.

Big-ship European line Costa Cruises have PRONTO pricing, which is the lowest possible price available and Fred Olsen feature early saver advance booking prices, giving the widest choice of cabins and preferred sitting for dining and table size. Ocean Members who book at least 6 months in advance will also receive a 5% discount.

Pay early for the sail-cruise style of Windstar and receive a Gratuity Package on all 2010 & 2011 sailings, PLUS $500 per couple shipboard credit if booked by 31 October.

There are even incentives for the deluxe Yachts of Seabourn, with early bookers receiving savings ranging from 10-50% off brochure fares. As the sailing date draws closer, these savings typically decrease or are withdrawn altogether.

Price Guarantees

Six-star Crystal Cruises have the Crystal Assurance Plan, which means if you book a 2009 or 2010 cruise and the fare is reduced later, you will be protected at the reduced fare (policy may not apply to special promotions).

Silversea will honour lower prices, provided it is their Silver Savings discount system that has changed. Silversea also have a Reassurance Programme, whereby if you cancel for any reason, you receive a 100% Reassurance Cruise Credit (subject to terms and conditions). The fee for this Programme is 3% of the guest’s holiday when purchased with a travel insurance that contains trip cancellation benefit.
Oceania Cruises will also match new rates where main brochure prices are reduced at a later date, as will Regent Seven Seas and the Yachts of Seabourn.

And Swan Hellenic's new Price Promise means if their prices reduce in future, they will automatically refund the difference, plus there are NO fuel or currency surcharges.

It all adds up to the BEST holiday style, at the BEST price and with the BEST discount guarantee. So it HAS to be a cruise in 2010!

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Luxury Gap

Despite the continued onslaught of the megaships, the luxury end of the cruise business continues to develop very nicely, with many of the main players bringing in new vessels, new services and a variety of upgrades and enhancements for their six-star style.

Seabourn set new standards with the launch of their Seabourn Odyssey in the summer and the debut of Silversea's Silver Spirit is eagerly anticipating in December. Add in more details of the Oceania Cruises new-build Marina - due in late 2010 - and a second ship in the Odyssey-class, also in 2010, and the deluxe choice continues to get better and better (love the new-look Oceania website by the way - extremely eye-catching).

Regent Seven Seas have been one of the few upscale lines not to have a new ship on the horizon. Instead, they have gone for an extensive fleet refurbishment, and the latest details of what is planned for their Seven Seas Navigator only goes to underline how luxury cruising continues to raise the bar, especially when it comes to dining.

Just consider some of these headline improvements and additions being planned for the 490-passenger Navigator's dry-dock period in the next two months:

"A glamorous and contemporary grill, Prime 7 will feature a stylish décor and an innovative menu of the finest prime-aged steaks and fresh seafood. Rivaling elegant restaurants ashore, a rich palette of green and golden hues will create an ambiance of glamour and intimacy. Supple leather, polished granite and burnished woods will set an impressive stage accented by custom-designed china, flatware and crystal."

This adds to a dining line-up that is already considered by many to be the finest at sea. Then there is this:

"Compass Rose – the ship’s main dining room – will appear dramatically different. New and sumptuous armchairs in rich jewel tones of cranberry and opal atop plush carpets of russet and cocoa will create a regal setting for gourmet dining. New draperies, china, silver and glassware will complete the redesign."

Sound good? There's more:

"La Veranda, offering indoor and outdoor seating, will replace the current Portofino’s restaurant. New furniture, carpeting and window treatments will be complemented by signature table settings. The new restaurant will serve breakfast and lunch in a casually elegant atmosphere and, in the evening, feature regionally themed specialty dinners."

As if all that updating isn't enough, Regent will also be adding yet another new option:

"High atop the ship on Deck 10, a new Pool Grill featuring a barbeque grill, hot and cold buffet, panini sandwich station and coffee and dessert area creates a casual, al fresco dining option that is open throughout the day. The ship’s bars and lounges will also receive masterful transformations. A mix of traditional and contemporary furnishings with complementary upholstery, carpeting and curtains will give Stars Lounge an eclectic ambiance reminiscent of a chic designer estate home."

The refurb doesn't stop there, however. Oh no, there is still more in store:

"Galileo’s will sport bold new interiors of burgundy and gold offset with accents of soft lavender, sky and moss while a sleek new bar area is awash with rich, tufted textiles and polished stone flooring. A new al fresco lounge has been created on the terrace and features comfortable seating areas with plump sofas and chaises overlooking the sea. The Navigator Lounge will also feature a new décor with rich hues of cappuccino, camel and navy accented by bold apple-green and lemon to create a vibrant, urbane feel. The ship’s card room and library will be redecorated as well and all public spaces throughout the ship are being refreshed."

Finally, almost as an afterthought, Regent announce that Canyon Ranch will be creating a whole new area aboard the ship, in keeping with their luxury tie-up on the other two vessels:

"The Canyon Ranch SpaClub will feature a state-of-the-art spa, wellness and fitness facility, plus a luxurious full-service beauty salon. SpaClub will offer the most desirable spa amenities available: massage, body and skin-care treatment rooms, a gym and weight room with cardio and weight training equipment, a juice bar, men's and women's locker rooms, thalassotherapy, sauna and steam rooms. The facility will offer array of rejuvenating spa treatments, some created specifically for RSSC guests, include massages and therapeutic bodywork, mud, aromatherapy, ayuvedic and seaweed treatments, facials and masks featuring Canyon Ranch’s award winning Your Transformation skincare products, conditioning body scrubs and therapeutic body cocoons."

And they also add that the ship will feature a range of new itineraries as well, making her appeal absolutely full of possibilities:

"Seven Seas Navigator will operate 7 to 11 night cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America this winter, followed by a summer season of seven-night Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Anchorage. Following her Alaska season, Seven Seas Navigator embarks on her lengthiest and most exotic voyage to date with a 96-night Grand Asia Pacific cruise sailing from Anchorage, Alaska to San Francisco, California."

All in all, it is the stuff of luxury dreams, but it comes at an ever-more-affordable price in 2010. The big watchword of the luxury end of the cruise market is 'Book Early' (OK, that's more than one word, but you get my drift!), and you will find this mantra repeated at every opportunity as the six-star lines look to make themselves more attractive, especially for those who can book well in advance.

OK, now what's stopping you........?!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Even More Oasis

It seems you can't go 24 hours at the moment without some kind or reminder, update or new snippet of information concerning the imminent debut of Royal Caribbean's mammoth Oasis of the Seas.

The steady drip-feed of info has been approaching torrent level in the last month or so, and there is still a month to go before her maiden voyage.

However, the big media previews are now set (all three of them!) from November 20-27, which means that several thousand worldwide journalists will get the chance to put this sea-going leviathan under the microscope.

At World of Cruising, we have been providing a regular news service, detailing the developments and counting down to the launch, including a full 4-page preview in the new Autumn edition. This amazing technological marvel (all 220,000 tons of it) has SO many different elements and facets, it is practically impossible to detail them all (without using up a full month's worth of blogs!).

Yet Royal Caribbean have skilfully and carefully put together a truly amazing publicity campaign from all these elements, providing a fairly comprehensive overview of what Oasis is all about without actually providing TOO much detail.

We have a pretty reasonable idea of the main features and attractions that this city of a ship will offer, but it's still only educated guesswork as to what the finished article will actually be like. It's hard to get an idea of the overall dimensions, but we can be sure they will be impressive (if not overwhelming!).

And now, in just a month's time (in fact, from Nov 22-24), I will be getting my first look and initial impression of Oasis of the Seas.

And, as Royal Caribbean probably hope and imagine, I can't wait!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Best Read At Sea!

Calling all cruise fans! And yes, that means YOU!

The new (Autumn) edition of World of Cruising magazine is now out, and is also available for viewing online.

So be sure to check it out for a fabulous in-depth look at the Panama Canal, River Cruising on the Douro River in Portugal and Spain, a preview of the mighty Oasis of the Seas of Royal Caribbean, a farewell to Fred. Olsen's old faithful Black Prince and much, much more besides.

Friday, 18 September 2009

TOO Good for Kids?

Royal Caribbean have gone to a lot of trouble and effort (not to mention money) in putting some of the most elaborate kids facilities ever seen into their forthcoming Oasis of the Seas.
Carnival have made a signature feature of their water-slides and Camp Carnival programmes. P&O seemingly have kids' clubs coming out of their ears, and NCL's new Norwegian Epic will also boast some of the most extensive children's facilities at sea.

With the exception of the truly deluxe, six-star operators, virtually everyone figures that the family market is key, and that therefore they have to have the biggest, brightest and downright fanciest gadgets and gizmos to keep the youngest cruisers happy.

It is an old adage in holiday circles that happy children equals happy parents, and that is certainly true in cruise terms.

But are the cruise lines doing TOO MUCH for kids?

Part of the attraction of cruising is in the places you visit, the different experiences on offer and the variety of cultures you can appreciate along the way. There is not much of that to be found in the kids clubs, where the junior landlubbers remain locked into their Wiis, Playstations and Nintendos.

While ships get smarters and more high-tech, the level of sophistication devoted to children is practically off the charts. Gone are the days when a couple of counsellors and a good game of football on the sports deck was about as organised as it got.

At the risk of sounding like the crustiest of curmudgeons, back in my day, we had just as much fun playing shuffleboard and doing scavenger hunts as all the clever, themed environments provide for today's kiddie cruisers.

And we also took an active interest in our ports of call, marvelling at each new harbour and the downright 'foreign' nature of the immediate vista. I can vividly remember my first visit to Gran Canaria and Madeira (back in 1969!), when the islands loomed out of the sea like some lunar landscape, full of mysterious possibilities and unimaginable delights.

Nowadays, if the average 9-year-old gives a new port even a passing glance, it is probably only because they are wondering if their Gameboy will work if they have to go ashore.

There seems to be no sense of awe and wonder, perhaps because children are fortunate to travel more often, but most likely because they don't have to use their imagination when it comes to cruising. The kids club provides that all for them.

So, perhaps the next big, mass-market cruise line that is considering the next generation of children's facilities might like to stop and ponder that, rather than build in another amazing, all-singing, all-dancing high-tech wonderland, they should perhaps realise that less can be more, simple can be good, and challenging can be rewarding.

And then some children might at least disembark at the end of the cruise knowing that Lisbon was the place that launched a generation of explorers and adventurers, and not just "some place in Portugal."