Friday, 31 July 2009

From Shining Century to Admirable Equinox

Southampton has played host all week to the new Celebrity Equinox, the second of the cruise line's Solstice-class ships and the first to be named in the UK.

And the initial review, feedback and gossip all suggest one thing - this is a HUGE success for Celebrity that brings them firmly back into the front rank of cruise ship hierarchy once again. Back in the limelight, and loving it!

I vividly remember all the hype and hoopla around their Century class ships back in 1995/96, when then Celebrity chief John Chandris led various press trips to the superb Meyer Werft shipyard at Papenburg, Germany.

The Century itself, quickly followed by the slightly larger Mercury and Galaxy (the latter of which is now sailing for TUI Cruises as Mein Schiff), proved to be something of a revolutionary vessel, breaking the existing mould of other new-builds at that time which were either horribly traditional and dull (P&O, NCL) or outrageously garish (Carnival).

For the first time, here was a new, European-styled cruise ship which was completely modern and stylish but also kept things in perspective, maintaining a solid cruise tradition with some revolutionary touches like their AquaSpa, expansive Sky Suites and a grand, two-level main Dining Room that offered a truly classic touch.

The Century was a beautiful ship to sail on, big enough to provide a choice in almost evertything you did but small enough to be comfortable and highly quality-conscious. You never felt you were on a vessel of 70,000-plus tons, and her two sisters were equally impressive.

The follow-up Millennium-class quartet slightly lost the plot, however. They weren't massively bigger at 91,000 tons compared to 71,000/77,000 but there was something horribly bulky and blockish about their design. The smooth, refined service which was a notable feature of the Century-class vessels wasn't quite so smooth and the standout feature of their main dining and alternative dining didn't measure up the line's Chandris-era standards.

Celebrity needed a game-changer to put them back at the forefront of the current welter of new-builds (greater quality from Carnival; more glitz from Costa; huge diversity from NCL; extra glamour from Holland America; and more of everything from Princess) and they opted to go for the bigger-still policy.

November 2008 saw the advent of the 122,000-ton Celebrity Solstice, a kind of combination of the original Century series and Royal Caribbean's massive Voyager-class. But this time, instead of just enlarging the blueprint and losing the focus, Celebrity kept things sharply in line, adding new features like their AquaClass staterooms and manicured Lawn Club (a surprisingly attractive novelty) and a truly indulgent alternative dining line-up.

Now, without allowing any grass (ho, ho) to grow under their feet, the line has made sure their new series is showcased firmly for the UK audience, hence the 7-day Southampton prelude to her first full inaugural sailing.

And it really looks like they have a massive hit on their hands. The travel trade has been suitably wowed, the grand Southampton naming ceremony was a complete headline-grabber and a 'taster' cruise for an assemblage of cruise and travel writers also seems to have been wamly received.

There is a good reason for this, of course. In April 2010 the third of these glamorous new-builds, Celebrity Eclipse, will hove into view and take up semi-permanent residence in Southampton for a seven-month season, becoming a 'British' ship in all but name (Equinox is off for a summer season in the Med shortly).

Celebrity badly needed Equinox to blaze an impressive trail for Solstice to follow. And, by the look of the past 7 days, they have achieved all that, and more besides.

An admirable Equinox indeed.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Time for a moan

OK, I've watched all the press releases roll in this week saying how the new SS Fantastic is going to be the greatest ship ever and the forthcoming Ocean-Going-Behemoth-Of-The-Seas will have the most amazing dining features in the whole world, but I'm also detecting a worrying pattern on sneaky extra onboard revenue earning. And I don't like it. At all.

The one that really set me thinking was Carnival's new 'Behind The Fun' guided tour, an "informative three-and-a-half-hour tour that offers participants a behind-the-scenes look at a wide range of shipboard venues that are normally off limits to guests. During the tour, key shipboard personnel, including the captain, chief engineer, chef de cuisine and other department heads, share their vast knowledge in their particular area of expertise."

Now I know this is really only bandwagon-jumping on Carnival's part (both Princess and NCL have already announced similar onboard revenue opportunities, I mean tours, in the past 12 months), but it does raise the question - is there nothing cruise lines can't now package as a ship 'tour,' 'experience' or 'programme'?

We fully understand cruise lines need to raise the revenue they have cut back on by offering a large range of discounts this year, all aimed at keeping passenger numbers up in the face of the economic meltdown.

But, if they keep adding new ways to separate passengers from their money whilst on board (and Carnival's new 'Behind The Fun' tour is 'only' $95 per person), then people are quickly going to cotton on to the fact that cruise ships are nothing more than large fleecing machines aimed at luring the wary and then emptying their pockets while they're not paying attention.

Providing 'alternative' dining options that all come at an extra cost was only the start, it seems. How much longer before they start charging for cabin service ("Changing the linen? That will be $10 per person, per night, please."), basic meals ("Only $15 a head for breakfast!") and even the dreaded "resort fee" because ships provide things like state-of-the-art fitness centres and casinos (even though many may not even use them)?

It may be a bit of a leap to go from a new paid-for guided tour (albeit, the kind of thing many ships did for free in the past) to completely deconstructing the all-inclusive nature of cruising, but there is something about these recent moves that make me deeply uneasy.

Or am I just being cynical?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Thinking of Christmas?

It's never too soon to be thinking of the Holidays and where to go for the Christmas/New Year period. Well, taking a cruise is often the mosty enjoyable way to get the very best out of the festive season and, it seems, Silversea Cruises think so, too! Here is their latest press release, highlighting some very tempting discounts for all they have to offer.

And don't forget the best place to book your next (or first) Silversea experience, is with the specialists at The Cruise Line Ltd. While this is true sea-going luxury, it comes with the price-tag to match. So make sure you get the best possible deal with TCL. Here are all the main details:


(London – 16 July 2009) This holiday season the intimate ships of Silversea are offering travellers the opportunity to celebrate aboard voyages that span the globe, from the warm waters of the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and South Pacific, to the ultimate winter wonderland… the Antarctic. With cruises ranging from eight to seventeen days, the six ships of the Silversea fleet -- Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper, new Silver Spirit (set to launch in December), and the expedition ship Prince Albert II -- offer an elegant way to spend the holiday season.

Highlighting the onboard ambiance will be special decorations, parties, menus, entertainment and engaging guest lecturers. With the exception of expedition cruises, clergy are also onboard to conduct religious services, including a rabbi for Hanukkah. "Our holiday voyages are designed to offer an escape from the pressure of deadlines and having to plan parties and prepare meals," said Trudy Redfern, Silversea's Managing Director, UK & Ireland. "Instead we offer a stress-free retreat where the focus is on authentic pleasures -- discovering new places, making new friends, and spending quality time with loved ones."

The following voyages offer the perfect setting for celebrating both Christmas and the New Year:

-- AFRICA & SEYCHELLES: Silver Wind departs 20 December on a 14-day voyage (#2939) from Mahe to Mauritius with calls in Praslin, La Digue, Silhouette Island, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Madagascar and Reunion Island. Guest Lecturer: Malcolm Ainscough, private guide and Africa expert who grew up in Zimbabwe. He has hosted European royalty and American notables throughout Africa. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,976.

-- ANTARCTICA: Prince Albert II departs Ushuaia 21 December on a 17-day expedition cruise (#7930) exploring the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island and Antarctic Peninsula before returning to Ushuaia. Expedition Team: Dr. David Elliot, geologist; Chris Collins, ornithologist; Claudia Holgate, environmental lecturer; and Victoria Salem, historian, to name a few. Silver Sailing fares start at £4,972.

-- CARIBBEAN: Silver Shadow departs 20 December on a 15-day roundtrip voyage (#3933) from Fort Lauderdale with calls in Virgin Gorda, Antigua, Bequia, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, St. Bart's, Grand Turk and Key West. Guest Lecturer: Dr. Roderick A. McDonald, professor of history at Rider University and editor of the Journal of the Early Republic. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Caribbean history. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,971.

-- MEDITERRANEAN & NORTH AFRICA: Silver Spirit departs 23 December on an 11-day maiden voyage (#5901) from Barcelona to Lisbon with calls in Malaga, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Casablanca and Tangier. Guest Lecturer: Andrew Roberts, historian and biographer who appears regularly on British television. He has reported on royalty for NBC and CNN in the U.S. His many articles have appeared in leading newspapers. Early Booking Incentive fares start at £3,570.

-- SOUTH AMERICA: Silver Cloud departs 20 December on a 16-day voyage (#1931) from Santiago to Buenos Aires with calls in Puerto Montt, Laguna San Rafael, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia, Puerto Madryn and Montevideo. Guest Lecturer: Michael Buerk, one of Britain's leading broadcast journalists. He has worked as a BBC news correspondent in more than sixty countries, covering political, diplomatic and economic developments. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,847.

-- SOUTH PACIFIC: Silver Whisper departs 19 December on a 15-day voyage (#4938) from Sydney to Auckland with calls in Melbourne, Hobart, cruising Milford Sound, Stewart Island, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Picton and Bay of Islands. Guest Lecturer: Li Cunxin (pronounced "Lee Schwin Sing"), Chinese ballet dancer who defected to the West. His bestselling autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, has been made into a movie scheduled for release later this year. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,347.

A sampling of itineraries coinciding with Hanukkah this year include:

-- CARIBBEAN: Silver Shadow departs 11 December on a 9-day voyage (#3932) from Barbados to Fort Lauderdale with calls in Bequia, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Antigua, St. Martin and Grand Turk. Guest Lecturer: Dr. Roderick A. McDonald, professor of history at Rider University and editor of the Journal of the Early Republic. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Caribbean history. Silver Sailing fares start at £1,622.

-- SOUTH AMERICA: Silver Cloud departs 4 December on a 16-day voyage (#1930) from Buenos Aires to Santiago with calls in Montevideo, Punta del Este, Puerto Madryn, Falkland Islands, Punta Arenas, Laguna San Rafael, Puerto Chacabuco and Puerto Montt. Guest Lecturer: Richard Cowley, former director-general of the Anglo-Uruguayan Cultural Institute. In 1982, he was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,697.

-- SOUTH PACIFIC: Silver Whisper departs 3 December on a 16-day voyage (#4937) from Singapore to Sydney with calls in Semarang, Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Whitsunday Islands and Brisbane. Silver Sailing fares start at £3,497.

And guests can enjoy a traditional American Thanksgiving feast on 26 November aboard all Silversea voyages, including:

-- CARIBBEAN: Silver Shadow departs 22 November on a 10-day roundtrip voyage (#3930) from Fort Lauderdale with calls in Nassau, Samana, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Bart's and Road Town. Silver Sailing fares start at £1,772.

-- SOUTH AMERICA: Silver Cloud departs 26 November on an 8-day voyage (#1929) from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires with calls in Parati, Sao Paulo, Itaji and Montevideo. Guest Lecturer: Richard Cowley, former director-general of the Anglo-Uruguayan Cultural Institute. In 1982, he was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Silver Sailing fares start at £1,872.

All fares listed above are per person based on double occupancy for a Vista Suite (Adventurer Class on Prince Albert II) and include port charges and handling fees.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Carnival's Enhanced Protection Plan

Interesting news release this morning from Carnival. A smart move but definitely a sign of the times.....


MIAMI (July 15, 2009) – Carnival Cruise Lines has enhanced its Cruise Vacation Protection Plan (VPP) to include severe weather watch/warning protection, as well as job loss protection. The enhanced features apply to plan purchases made July 15, 2009 and after.

The severe weather watch/warning protection provides reimbursement in the event the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and/or National Weather Service issues or maintains a severe weather watch or warning within 48 hours of a cruise departure. Should the watch or warning affect either the cruise departure city or the guest’s route to that city, the plan will allow for cancellation and reimbursement up to the full amount of the cruise cost.

Another new weather protection feature provides that if a guest is traveling to the cruise departure port via a common carrier (airplane, bus, train, etc.) and inclement weather ultimately causes the guest to miss 50 percent or more of the cruise vacation, the guest may receive reimbursement up to the total cost of the cruise.

The new job loss protection will provide reimbursement up to the total cruise cost if individuals who have booked a cruise and purchased the plan are subsequently terminated by their employer and have worked for that employer for at least one continuous year.

The above enhancements will further strengthen the current plan which offers a variety of other benefits, including trip cancellation/interruption, trip delay, emergency medical evacuation, medical, baggage loss and baggage delay. The program also provides a 24-hour emergency assistance hotline.

“These enhancements to the Cruise Vacation Protection Plan are designed to provide consumers with an assurance that their vacation investment will be protected in the unlikely event severe weather or job loss occurs – important factors given both the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the current economy,” said Ruben Rodriguez, Carnival’s executive vice president of marketing and guest experience.

Carnival’s Cruise Vacation Protection Plan is administered by BerkelyCare, a recognized leader in travel insurance. The plan must be purchased at least 14 days prior to the cruise departure date. Prices begin at $49 per person and vary by cruise length. Travel agents receive 10 percent commission on the sale of VPP coverage.

For additional information on Carnival’s Cruise Vacation Protection Plan, please visit

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Join the Club? (by SV)

Celebrity Cruises has relaunched its Captains Club benefits programme to offer more exclusive services and features for repeat passengers who qualify in its three-tier system.

And, for a change, it really does sound like a cruise line has "listened to our regular guests" in redesigning what the Club can do to make a Celebrity cruise more attractive for past passengers.

Instead of the hackneyed old 'private drinks reception,' (which, frankly, is a pretty feeble idea that set sail with the original Queen Mary), they have introduced a special Captain's Club quiet lounge, an exclusive, once-a-cruise Captain's Celebration, complimentary Internet packages and more (with Celebrity promising further additions to come after more 'consultations').

The new Lounge will offer a casual coffee-house style from 8-10am (with complimentary teas, espressos and other items) and a social wine club from 4-6pm, with wine-tasting and other events.

Another handy, if less dramatic, addition to the programme re laundrey, dry-cleaning and pressing benefits, based on the length of cruise.

It may not sound a lot but this does provide Captains Club members with some neat sea-going privileges and, more importantly, it gives the whole idea of cruise 'rewards' programmes far more credibility and clout, while this should certainly offer a genuine 'lure' for anyone looking to join (or take their next cruise if already enrolled). Members are also offered told there will be more opportunities to reach higher-tier status.

You can read the full press release on the Royal Caribbean investor website, and the promise of more to come, should make Celebrity a highly attractive proposition for anyone with a few 'credits' already under their belt (and credits are also earned for longer cruises and higher categories of stateroom with Celebrity Cruises).

When the competition for passengers' hard-earned money is getting more and more fevered almost day by day, it is these kinds of more thoughtful 'extras' which may well catch the eye. Just in the case the brand spanking new Celebrity Equinox doesn't!

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Future of River Cruising? (by SV)

With news of the demise (in 2010) of Peter Deilmann's river cruise operations, American operator AMA Waterways is looking to jump into the gap. Represented in the UK by Fred. Olsen Cruises, a weekend press release insists AMA is "the future of river cruising" in Europe.

While it may be a tad too soon (like, about 12 months too early!), to make any predictions of all-encompassing success in the river cruise ranks, it is probably a smart move by AMA to flag up their options (especially at the luxury end of things) in a bid to grab a greater share of the market, especially since the launch of their new, five-star MS Amalyra (above).

AMA expects to increase river cruise business in 2009 by "up to 200%" (although even a 1% increase would actually fall within range of that quote!), with a similar figure projected for next year.

Now, the question is, will Viking River Cruises (the UK and Europe's other big river operator) throw their hat into the ring for "the future"?

For more details of AMA Waterways cruises, look up or try Fred. Olsen on 01473 746175. To book, as always, call The Cruise Line Ltd on 0800 008 6677.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Star Chefs Sail with Star Clippers! (by SV)

Here's a fun little press release this morning from the excellent Star Clippers and their flagship, the superb Royal Clipper. Looks like passengers on this 19 August sailing will be in for a real culinary treat!

Star chefs to sail with Star Clippers

From 19th – 29th August 2009 Star Clippers, which offers holidays on three of the world’s tallest and most beautiful clipper ships, has a team of top chefs and sommeliers on board Royal Clipper, the world’s largest square rigger, for a voyage from Venice to Rome calling in at Dubrovnik, Corfu, Taormina and Capri. Each day, the chefs will between them create specialities from the region in which the ship is sailing and every afternoon, culinary workshops will take place with wine tasting.

The culinary team includes Jean Marie Meulien, who over 14 years has attained three coveted Michelin stars at restaurant L’Oasis in La Napoule on the French Riviera. For several years, Meulien has acted as culinary consultant to Star Clippers, influencing the menus on board to great acclaim.

Other chefs on board for the 10-day voyage are Dieter Biesler of Germany’s five star Kempinski Gravenbruch hotel, holder of one Michelin star, Eric Trarieux from the prestigious Ecole Culinaire of Otto Koch and top sommeliers Christian and Isabelle Marbler from domaine Clos des Nines in France’s Languedoc-Roussillion.

This very special voyage costs from €2315 + port charges, per person double occupancy. Children under 18 years, travelling with parents, only pay the port charges.

To book, try the Cruise Line on 0800 008 6677.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Embarkation for all ports!

OK folks, here's a quick 'Welcome Aboard' message from your new 'captain' for Time Spent At Sea, which is something we hope will develop into one of the most entertaining and informative Blogs about the wide World of Cruising (oops - cheap plug alert!).

My name is Simon Veness (one half of the almost-well-known Veness travel-writing team) and, as some people will already be aware, editor of World of Cruising magazine, Europe's longest-running and premier publication on the subject of cruising and cruise ships (whoops - there I go again!). By way of introduction, I have been cruising since I was nine (although there is no truth in the rumour I was on the maiden voyage of the original Queen Mary) and am a complete cruise addict. I am firmly of the opinion this is the best kind of holiday anyone will take - provided they choose the right voyage for their personal taste.

Modern cruising is a vastly different animal to that which many people associate with the image of yesteryear (or even my first experiences) and there is a vast amount of choice these days, hence it is vital people do their 'homework' before booking their first (or next) cruise. Our magazine obviously provides a lot of insight (oops - gratuitous plug No. 3!), but that should really be just the starting point for the booking process.

A good, up-to-date guidebook is also highly advisable (I use both Steve Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation and the inestimable Doug Ward's encyclopaedic Berlitz Guide to Cruising), while the internet is obviously invaluable, too, with sites like Cruise Critic providing a wealth of up-to-date info.

Obviously, we are happy to take all kinds of queries on the subject and develop an even greater database of info and advice, while UK cruise devotees should also make an early advance note in their diaries for March 27-28, 2010, when the second big CRUISE show, sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, will be open in London (at Olympia next year, as opposed the rather cavernous ExCel in 2009) and well worth visiting for special displays, talks and - especially - cruise deals. Check out their website early and often for how to get tickets in advance at reduced prices.

Finally, by way of a final 'plug' for this blog (and I promise to keep it relatively Ad-free in future!), we also have a companion Twitter with our sister company The Cruise Line Ltd which also provides little news nuggets and updates on what we're doing (and some juicy special offers!).

We will also, of course, continue to offer Blogs by some of our other notable contributors, like well-known travel writer and cruise aficionado Anthony Nicholas, and hopefully it will all add up to some fabulous Time Spent At Sea. All aboard, now............!