Saturday, 29 August 2009

Laugh A Long A Carnival!

It’s definitely that time of year. There are new ships on the horizon and we are being bombarded with information and glittering facts and figures about them on an almost daily basis.

Royal Caribbean are giving us regular (large) doses of their forthcoming Oasis of the Seas, fittingly in instalments to go with their weekly ‘webisodes’ on the ship’s own website, providing a growing and in-depth catalogue of everything you ever wanted to know (and some of what you didn’t) about the world’s largest cruise ship.

The drip-feed of info has been so steady and so constant it feels like we know the ship already, even though its official launch is still more than two months way (and we have a full preview of it in the Autumn issue of World of Cruising magazine – out on September 15!).

At the same time, Carnival have been trying to keep up with their first new series of vessel for several years, the 130,000-ton Carnival Dream.

Now, unable to claim it is the ‘biggest this’ or the ‘largest that,’ the world’s largest cruise line have had a harder time coming up with fascinating facts and interesting tidbits to make the public sit up and take notice (kind of hard when they are already reeling from Oasis overkill!).

So instead, Carnival have opted for a more laid-back approach, focusing on the vessel’s new attributes, like the superb Ocean Plaza indoor/outdoorlive music venue, the Seaside Theatre (above) and onboard features, like the line’s widest range dining alternatives, which include a Tandoori restaurant and burrito bar.

Now they have moved full tilt to elaborating about their entertainment offerings, and have hit on a really eye-catching contribution from an old tried-and-trusted formula given a new spin.

The Comedy Club idea has been tried before without taking the cruise world by storm (by Disney Cruise Line, when their Disney Magic and Wonder first came out in 1998 and 1999 and promptly ditched after just a couple of seasons).

But now the Carnival entertainment team reckon they have the approach to make their guests sit up, take notice, and have a right good laugh.

The Comedy Club a la Carnival Dream will utilise the 425-seat Burgundy Lounge and feature six 35-minutes shows over four separate nights on a typical week-long cruise. Comedians will vary from family friendly to adults-only, and feature a wide range of comedy types.

Here’s their press release in full:

MIAMI (August 26, 2009) – Building upon its reputation for offering the most diverse entertainment choices at sea, Carnival Cruise Lines will introduce the line’s first comedy club on its new 130,000-ton Carnival Dream. The club will feature six comedy shows on four different nights during each voyage.

The new 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream – the line’s largest ship – is set to debut Sept. 21, 2009.

Presented in the 425-seat Burgundy Lounge, Carnival Dream’s comedy club will highlight a wide variety of comedians offering both family-friendly and adult-only performances each night.

Six 35-minute shows will be presented nightly, with show times at 6, 7:15, 8:30, 9:45 and 11 p.m., and 12:15 a.m. The last two performances will be R-rated adult-only shows.

Carnival Dream’s comedy club will showcase the talents of both the line’s established comedians and up-and-coming performers, many of whom have appeared on television specials and in comedy venues throughout the country.

“Guests choose a Carnival vacation to relax, laugh and have a great time, and comedy shows are one of our most popular entertainment offerings,” said Roger Blum, Carnival’s vice president of cruise programming. “On the Carnival Dream there will be 24 performances during each voyage, providing guests multiple opportunities to enjoy a highly talented roster of comics providing endless laughs in a fun and entertaining environment.”

Carnival Dream’s comedy club is one of several entertainment options aboard the spectacular “Fun Ship” that will offer guests an unparalleled mix of entertainment and activity choices from early in the morning to late at night.

These include three high-energy revues – “Dancin’ in the Street,” “Get Ready” and “X-Treme Country” – each of which will feature elaborate sets and costumes, state-of-the-art video technology and sophisticated special effects to keep audiences enthralled and entertained.

Offered for the first time on Carnival Dream, Ocean Plaza is a stunning indoor/outdoor café/live music venue with activities and entertainment planned from 9 a.m. until 1 a.m. Here, guests can relax with specialty coffees and sweets while enjoying a variety of live music, from rock and roll bands to a Latin trio, classical pianists, solo singers and more.

Located on Promenade Deck 5, Ocean Plaza will also serve as the venue for activities ranging from scrapbooking classes and trivia contests to karaoke, and art, spa and photo seminars. Jugglers and magic shows also will be presented, while the Fun Force, Carnival’s energetic acrobatic troupe, will amaze guests with their high-flying antics.

Other diversions on Carnival Dream will include solo entertainers along the Dream Street Promenade, a karaoke lounge, rollicking sing-a-longs in Sam’s Piano Bar, steel drum and Calypso bands on Lido Deck and live bands playing everything from rock to Latin to disco. Carnival Dream will also feature Carnival’s Seaside Theatre, a massive LED screen on Lido Deck showing movies, concerts, sporting events and other programming.

Carnival Dream debuts Sept. 21, 2009, with the first of three 12-day Grand Mediterranean cruises operating round-trip from Rome (Civitavecchia), followed by a 16-day trans-Atlantic crossing from Rome to New York Oct. 27 - Nov. 12.

Carnival Dream will operate two eight-day Bahamas/Florida cruises departing Nov. 15 and 23 from New York. The ship will then reposition to Port Canaveral, Fla., for a special nine-day Caribbean cruise departing Dec. 3. Carnival Dream will launch year-round seven-day Caribbean service from Port Canaveral, Dec. 12, 2009.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Classic Frenzy!

It never rains but it pours. That 18th century saying is usually used to express bad things happening, at regular intervals. But it is also relevant to the sudden - and welcome - creation of new cruise lines pandering to the more cerebral and, perhaps, more mature passenger.
Hot on the heels of the new Cruise & Maritime Voyages announcement (see the next entry in Time Spent At Sea) comes news of another start-up cruise line offering a more distinctive, small-scale and even traditional experience.
Voyages to Antiquity will start in May 4, 2010, as a one-ship, classic cruise operation, featuring destination intensive voyages in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, taking in the Middle East, Aegean and Adriatic. They will offer a heavily lecture-based onboard programme, with a focus on the ancient civilisations of the area (hence the line's title) and definitely aimed at an English-speaking audience.

The vessel will be the extensively-revamped Aegean I, which has been laid up in port following an ownership dispute for several years, and which will be reborn (after a multi-million pound facelift) as the Aegean Odyssey.

She will carry just 380 passengers and offer single-occupancy cabins as well as some new balcony cabins, with voyages varying from 14 to 29 nights (May-Nov). They also intend to get off the beaten cruise track where possible, and visit some out-of-the-way ports like Kotor (Montenegro) and Syracuse (Sicily).

Under the helm of Gerry Herrod, who started the original Orient Lines in the early 90s, this promises to be a thoughtful and educational cruise offering. So expect lots of seriously high-brow guests lecturers and a really in-depth focus on the destinations, their history and culture.

They are still several weeks away from launching their website and sales line, but, for those who really enjoy the classic cruise experience, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Farewell Black Prince, Hello Marco Polo!

Cruising from UK ports has been on a steady upward curve for the past 10 years and looked to be heading for record levels in 2010, until Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines announced that their beloved Black Prince would be leaving them after this season.

The loss of this small-but-popular vessel - only 11,209 tons but with the history and passenger appreciation level of a megaliner - had threatened to leave quite a gap in the ex-UK cruise portofolio, especially with the departure of other small, traditional vessels like Saga Cruises' Saga Rose.

But, in a move that was both surprising and smart, there will be not one but TWO new choices for fans of cruising from a variety of British ports.

Cruise and Maritime Services have been a player in the ex-UK charter market for quite a few years now, but they had noted the loss of Black Prince and Co and determined that something needed to be done to fill the void. And how.

Forming their own British cruise 'brand,' Cruise & Maritime Voyages, they have extended their charter relationship with the ship's owners and turned it into a year-round proposition sailing from British shores.

Her itineraries (from January 2, 2010) will take her on winter voyages to the Amazon, Orinoco and West Indies, all from the little-used Essex port of Tilbury. In the summer, she will sail for Scandinavia, the Baltic and Russia, again all from Tilbury.

More senior cruisers will also be keen to know Marco Polo will operate as an 'adults only' vessel, meaning passengers will be 16 and up only. So no children's facilities at all, and none of the shenanigans that some of the bigger, family-intensive ships have reported in recent years.

However, not content with adding this long-popular gem (she sailed for many years for the old Orient Lines before NCL unceremoniously ditched that brand in 2007), C&M have also decided to bring another traditional ship into their fold by adding the 17,000-ton Ocean Countess to their stable.

The former Cunard Countess, launched in 1975, she will add more classic British cruise style and a host of options for ex-UK voyaging, including Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Greenock.

Starting in April, she will operate a wide-ranging series of cruises to the Baltic, Scandinavia, Mediterranean and the Canaries, all with that 'no-fly' option which appeals to many. She will also undergo a major renovation (costing some $5million) before becoming a Cruise & Maritime vessel.
So, just when you thought it was time to bemoan the dwindling band of 'old faithfuls' operating to that sector of the market who appreciate that smaller and older can, actually, be quite a pleasant contrast to large and modern, along comes not one but two new options.

All aboard now............!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Anticipating Oasis

I have just finished putting together a preview feature on Oasis of the Seas for the next issue of World of Cruising magazine (but you'll have to wait to Sept 15 to read it, though!).

With the latest 'webisode' of the Oasis story now up on their website, it is pretty amazing to see this gargantuan undertaking all coming together.

Her maiden voyage is set for December 1 and this 220,000-ton leviathan (did I say 220,000? It seems only a few years ago that 100,000 tons was pretty mind-boggling) will not just break into the record books but stomp all over them for some time to come.

The statistics of the ship alone are staggering - the longest-ever at 1,181ft (finally beating the Queen Mary 2), bigger by 66,000 tons than the previous largest, 48 categories of stateroom, 17 dining choices, her own purpose-built terminal at Port Everglades, etc, etc.

But the steady stream of info from Royal Caribbean has ensured they have maintained a good, solid interest in the new vessel, whether it's for record-breaking reasons or just because she's a fascinating piece of hardware.

The build process has highlighted the incredible technology involved (check out the Building Incredible and Introducing Oasis 'webisodes' on the site) and it does leave you asking - how will guests get to grips with something this large?

With 16 passenger decks and a beam in excess of 200ft, this is truly a ship of overwhelming proportions. The Royal Promenade is more than twice as wide as the Freedom and Voyager-class vessels and the entertainment offerings are even more dazzling.

It will take people at least a week to get their bearings, find out where everything is - and then it will be time to get off!

But one thing is for sure, NO-ONE will ever again be able to come out with the hoary old objection to cruising of: "It's so boring!"