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,, 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.