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."

Friday, 11 September 2009

Mickey in Alaska?

It seemed to be the worst-kept secret in cruising, but Disney Cruise Line has finally announced they will be taking one of their ships to Alaska for the first time in 2011.

The House of Mouse has dabbled with the US West Coast a couple of times (in summer 2005 and '08) but a move to an Alaskan programme had been conspicuous by its absence, despite persistent rumours DCL was considering the idea.

Now Mickey and Co have finally charted a course for America's 49th state, with a summer series on Disney Wonder out of Vancouver from May 3 to Sept 6, 2011.

The 7-night cruises will visit the Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, with stops at the latter trio and fares starting at $939/person

The Wonder will sail a total of 18 seven-night cruises in Alaska, and also be equipped with a brand new venue called Outlook Café during a dry dock in October. Located high atop deck 10, the 2,500sq ft, 65-seat Café is a stylish retreat for a beverage or cocktail, with curved glass windows and panoramic views. The design uses contemporary Art Deco inspiration and an elegant spiral staircase will connect it with the existing Cove Café one deck below.

The Alaska programme will be sandwiched by two separate series based in Los Angeles, from Jan 23 to April 27 and Sept 25 to Dec 18, to the Mexican Riviera, starting at $639/person (substantially different to Alaska!).

Disney Magic returns to the Mediterranean for the summer 2011, sailing 10 and 11-night itineraries out of Barcelona, which means the new Disney Dream will be left to run their typical Caribbean and Bahamas cruises that summer.

It is great news for the region of Alaska, which will see a slight downturn in business in 2010 but it will be interesting to see how well positioned Disney can make their cruises in the first season in an area that is notoriously difficult to predict for weather and shore excursions.

With almost two years to prepare, they should provide a neat alternative to the traditional Alaska cruise, as offered by the likes of Princess, Holland America and others, but I remember NCL having a number of teething problems when they started in 1994. Watch this space, as they say!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Going Exotic with Princess

There are plenty of options for voyages that get away from the main cruise areas and offer that 'something different' factor these days. The choice for wonderful, exotic itineraries has literally never been greater.

But few lines offer as wide a variety under one roof, so to speak as Princess Cruises. Their 18-ship fleet now covers just about every corner of the globe, and their latest range of 'Exotic Cruises' is quite mind-boggling.

It features 12 of their fleet on 50 different itineraries, from a grand 108-night World Cruise (on Pacific Princess) to a 12-night Panama Canal transit on Coral Princess (which reminds me to give another plug to the forthcoming Autumn issue of World of Cruising magazine, as it features a major destination overview of the Canal).

Once again, it serves to highlight the absolutely amazing variety and quality of cruise experience on offer in the mainstream cruise world these days, something which was usually only in the preserve of a handful 10 or 15 years ago.

They have already highlighted their array of voyages around the South Pacific and Hawaii in 2010-11. So, let me put the Princess story in full, with their full 'exotic' press release:

1 September – Princess Cruises has today launched its new Exotic Cruises Worldwide programme for 2010 with new itineraries, enhanced sailings andnew ports of call.

With an impressive selection of 12 ships ranging in size from 670 to 3,110 passengers, the cruise line will offer 150 cruises across 50 itineraries. Passengers can enjoy holidays from 12 nights up to the full 108-night World Cruise, across all seven continents, proving Princess is the leader in destination cruising with itineraries designed to please first-time cruisers and experienced travellers alike.

The ships deployed on the itineraries will be equally impressive, with nine that offer ‘Movies under the Stars’, the line's trademark enormous poolside movie screen, and the adult-only oasis of ‘The Sanctuary.' All ships offer a choice of dining venues, such as Sabatini’s Trattoria, the Sterling Steakhouse and Crown Grill.

Princess Cruises also has the highest percentage of balcony cabins compared to any other cruise line sailing the far-flung corners of the globe, providing the ultimate view from which to experience these worldwide destinations.

Highlights of the new Exotic Cruises Worldwide programme are as follows:

Pacific Princess will offer a 108-night world cruise with shorter World Sectors ranging from 22-84 nights in duration and Dawn Princess will feature 12-56 night World Escapes between Sydney and Southampton. Fares start from £12,299 per person on Pacific Princess while a 51-night World Escape cruise on Dawn starts from £4,699 per person.

Increased capacity in the Far East – Ocean Princess and Diamond Princess return to sail these magical destinations, with holidays ranging from 14-26 nights between Singapore and Bangkok, Bangkok and Shanghai and Shanghai to Osaka, with the opportunity to extend the holiday by combining cruises. Fares start from £2,699 per person. Diamond Princess will also sail a NEW 26-night itinerary from Sydney to Beijing, with fares starting from £3,349 per person.

NEW! Panama Marvel – Sea Princess sails a new 25-night holiday from San Francisco to Barbados with fares from £2,149 per person. There’s also the option to enjoy further time in San Francisco with a 2 or 3-night pre-cruise hotel stay from just £99 per person.

Panama Passion – leading the way in Panama, Coral Princess, Island Princess and Sea Princess will offer five exceptional itineraries taking in 18 ports of call and nine different countries as well as a 2-day Panama Canal Experience on cruises of 15-nights or longer. Fares start from £1,829 per person for a full-transit 12-nights on Coral Princess.

South American Sizzle – Star Princess returns for another series of cruises around South America, the Andes and Cape Horn, ranging from 16-22 nights. Fares for a 16-night Cape Horn route to Rio start from £2,299 per person.

‘Fall’ in love with Canada – Crown Princess sails the 11-night Classic Canada and New England itinerary and the 14-night Canada and Colonial America itinerary from Quebec to Fort Lauderdale, with the option to extend the holiday with a 5-day Maple Explorer deluxe pre or post-cruise land tour. Fares for an 11-night fly-cruise start from £1,399 per person.
My good friend Pieter van der Schee, head of Brand Marketing for Princess, puts the case for their Exotic programme, insisting: “Princess Cruises offer many incredible ways to escape the winter months and enjoy the warmth and relaxation of a tropical getaway. These exotic itineraries offer romance, insight into diverse cultures, active pursuits, stunning beaches and even the opportunity to witness a historic marvel ofengineering.”

Oh, and don't forget you can get some pretty good deals on all Princess cruises from The Cruise Line!