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

** 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

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:

- 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

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.