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.