Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Best Free Dining at Sea? It's An Epic Choice

It's fascinating to watch the details continue to roll out ahead of this summer's launch of the new Norwegian Epic, the largest and most feature-packed vessel in the history of NCL.

So far, we've seen a revolutionary take on cabin design, an amazing line-up of entertainment, the largest-ever Spa complex at sea and some superb children's programmes, all of which we have detailed in recent months here on our Time Spent At Sea blog. Now comes the full array of Dining choice - with no less that 11 complimentary experiences (out of 21 in total), arguably the most comprehensive and eye-catching of any ship to date.

The free-to-dine restaurants include many that are new to NCL, such as the Manhattan Room, reminiscent of an elegant supper club and complete with music, dancing and entertainment; O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, serving American favourites; Spice H20, serving Latin and Asian-influenced cuisine; the Studio Lounge, serving snacks and light fare to solo travellers; and the Epic Club, the exclusive dining venue for Norwegian Epic's Suites and Villa passengers. Other regular options include the Garden Cafe buffet, the Great Outdoors al fresco pool grill and even a Kids Cafe.

The additional 10 dining options will all have a nominal cover charge (ranging from $5-$25 per person), with a la carte pricing in Shanghai’s noodle bar and Wasabi sushi bar.

I especially like the sound of Taste (picture above), a dramatic-looking and high-energy style of restaurant that promises an array of traditional and contemporary cuisine, and Cagney's Steakhouse & Churrascaria, as NCL have always done this style of dining extremely well.
NCL also insist that there is one more upscale dining option still to be revealed in May. Get your tastebuds ready!

Meanwhile, the luxurious Mandara Spa will be the largest at sea, housing 24 treatment rooms, two private couple’s villas, two exotic steam Rasul rooms, a DIY Scrub Experience, Hydrotherapy Courtyard & Thermal Suite, full-service salon, fitness centre with TRX training and a barber shop. The Spa features more than 50 treatments for both men and women, including Elemis facials, massages, body therapies, bliss® face and body treatments, and acupuncture, along with cosmetic medical treatments performed by a licensed doctor. The salon features hair, nail and waxing services. In addition, kids and teens can choose from a selection of child-friendly spa services.

Once again, it all serves to highlight the astonishing array of facilities that are being packed into this ship - and the mind-boggling choice that cruising represents in the 21st century.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Enter Adonia

Hot on the heels of our recent Blog about the amazing amount of tonnage on offer in the Med in 2011 comes the full news from P&O Cruises of their first deployment of new ship Adonia (currently the Royal Princess of Princess Cruises) next year.

Their 'new' 710-passenger vessel (which will actually sail under its fourth different guise since its launch in 2000 as Renaissance 8 and then Minerva II) will also be something of a trail-blazer for P&O with a full season of ex-UK and Mediterranean fly-cruising, exclusively for adults as a replacement for the Artemis, which leaves the fleet next year.

And it looks like there will be some innovative itineraries and clever onboard programming to go with this latest offering to the big, big Med season in 2011.

Her cruises can be booked from April 27, and P&O managing director Carol Marlow said: “Adonia is an exciting introduction to our fleet and one that enables us to diversify the range of cruise destinations that we offer. She is a small ship and her size enables her to visit off the beaten track destinations and lesser known ports of call. Adonia will be our pathfinder ship, but she will, of course offer our tried and tested P&O Cruises experience,

“We know many of our passengers prefer a cruise experience exclusively for adults and also the intimate atmosphere and sense of camaraderie that comes with a smaller ship. Adonia will fit the bill perfectly and we are confident that she is going to be a much-loved addition to the P&O Cruises fleet.”

Main restaurant will be the Pacific dining room and there will be two further Select dining venues (with a cover charge), Italian ‘Sorrento’ and a steakhouse named the Ocean Grill. There will also be a buffet restaurant, with some al fresco dining and a barbecue area out on the Lido deck.

For entertainment, there will be 8 bars, including P&O Cruises signature Crow’s Nest observation lounge; Anderson's, the familiar club-style lounge bar; and Raffles, which will also offer a coffee shop menu throughout the day with pastries, chocolates, hot drinks and afternoon tea.

Adonia will also feature The Curzon Lounge, where passengers can enjoy a drink with a sea view during the day, and by night enjoy a performance by the Headliners theatre company, concerts, dancing, or after dinner speakers.

There will be the signature Oasis Spa, offering a range of treatments and therapies including Aromasoul massages and body scrubs, Aromatherapy, and reflexology. There is also a well equipped gym with panoramic sea views.

Cabins will feature Egyptian cotton linen, tea and coffee-making facilities and over 75% will have a private balcony.

“She will celebrate all those things our regular passengers love about cruising with us – a classic dance floor, Crow’s Nest observation lounge, formal nights, classical music recitals, guest speakers, silver service dining and a dedicated card room. Loyal cruisers and those new to cruising alike will be charmed by the refined P&O Cruises experience Adonia will offer,” Marlow added.

Adonia’s cruises will also feature ‘Spotlight’ – a new programme of events for passengers wanting to learn a skill, develop their knowledge or find hobbies. Talks and interactive workshops will be offered on subjects as such as history, current affairs, the natural world, dance, art and gastronomy. All are delivered by experts in their field, some including familiar TV personalities.

The ship will be based in Southampton between May and October 2011, offering cruises from seven to 26 nights in duration to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. The itineraries will feature overnight calls in Athens and St. Petersburg, as well as a round-Britain cruise.

In October, Adonia will reposition to the Mediterranean and offer six open-jaw Central and Eastern Mediterranean fly-cruises, departing from Savona, Athens, Trieste and Naples. Itinerary highlights include a Christmas and New Year cruise to the Holy Land.

Prices start from £1,924 for the 16-night Western Mediterranean maiden cruise from Southampton in May 2011; £899 for a 7-night ex-Southampton Norwegian Fjords cruise; and £1,399 cruise only, for a 14-night Central Mediterranean holiday from Trieste to Athens in December. A holiday package add-on with flights is available for £99.

There are also a range of completely new ports of call:
  • Bourgas, Bulgaria
  • Flekkefjord, Norway
  • Foynes, Ireland
  • Jersey, UK
  • Koper, Slovenia
  • Liverpool, UK
  • Sassnitz, Germany
  • Savona, Italy
  • Zadar, Croatia
And then ports of call that are being reintroduced – in some instances after more than 30 years, and not visited since the days of the classic old-timer Victoria - are:
    • Alta, Norway
    • Antalya, Turkey
    • Ashdod, Israel
    • Bodo, Norway
    • Bodrum, Turkey
    • Catania, Italy
    • Gythion, Greece
    • Haifa, Israel
    • Huelva, Spain
    • Izmir, Turkey
    • Patmos, Greece
    • Port Mahon, Spain
    • Salerno, Italy
    • Samos, Greece
    • Tangiers, Morocco
    • Trieste, Italy
    • Volos, Greece
    • Waterford, Ireland
Early bird savings are available for bookings made by 30 June 2010. Double savings are offered on balcony cabins, with savings up to £800 per couple for a 14 night cruise, and also on all cabin grades on two of Adonia’s fly-cruise holidays in October 2011 and January 2012.

Free car parking is available on all of Adonia’s cruises from Southampton, and on board spending money of between £50 and £250 per cabin is also available (amount depending on duration).

Europe Or Bust!

The charge is on - and European waters may never be the same again!

That is to say, there will be more ships in the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas than ever before, and the cruise menu will be bulging at the rivets with possibilities for April-October 2011.

For reasons that even the cruise industry seems to be struggling to explain (although it may have something to do with lower port duties and fees in many of the ports, as opposed to Alaska), there will be an absolute plethora of maritime options throughout Europe next year.

As if the high numbers and record-breaking volume of the cruise capacity in 2010 isn't enough, many lines are going a step further in 12 months' time. And it is not just the mass-market operators - everyone is at it, including upmarket companies like Oceania Cruises and the Yachts of Seabourn.

One by one, from Princess to NCL to Holland America to Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, the lines have announced increased capacity, more ports of call and enhanced itineraries. It is not so much a rush as an ocean-going stampede - and the cruise customer stands to benefit enormously.

There are already some handsomely attractive advance deals (like Oceania offering two-for-one pricing), and they could well become the norm in the coming months as this year fills up and people start to look at 2011.

Here's how the 'big boys' of the cruise business are shaping up:

Princess Cruises: 7 ships, with 106 itineraries, 42 of which are brand new.

Celebrity Cruises: 3 of their Solstice-class vessels will be in Europe for the first time

NCL: 3 ships, based uniquely in Copenhagen (Norwegian Sun), Barcelona (the new Norwegian Epic) and Venice (Norwegian Jade).

Royal Caribbean: a stunning 10 ships, visiting 78 ports on 109 different itineraries.

Holland America: 7 ships - including 2 of their largest Signature-class - offering 15 maiden ports of call and 16 overnight ports.

And that is before you consider the 'resident' European specialists like P&O, Fred. Olsen, Costa, MSC Cruises and Thomson.

It is an amazing line-up of cruise-going hardware - in excess of 60 vessels all featuring European itineraries - and it all serves to underline, yet again, that the best holiday choice remains a cruise choice.

Or, in the words of a famous politician, You've never had it so good. Or so varied!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sizzling Seabourn

Call me biased, but when it comes to truly distinctive, ultra-deluxe cruising, Seabourn have pretty much set the standard since their inception in 1988. Their original trio of chic, classy small-scale vessels introduced a whole new way of enjoying life at sea, and they maintained that style and reputation right through the 1990s and early 2000s.

Then, when their crown was in danger of being stolen by several high-quality rivals, they set out to restore their class-leading advantage and raise the bar still further. The result was the stunning Seabourn Odyssey in June 2009, a new vessel of such breathtaking vision and clarity the usual caveats of waiting to see how a ship's first 2 months panned out went completely by the wayside.

Here was a newcomer that immediately demonstrated that it knew exactly what it was supposed to be, how best to appeal to regulars and first-timers alike, and how to launch with everything perfectly in sync service-wise (the usual bane of new vessels). Odyssey maintained the same handsome, sleek profile but also looked the part of sharp 21st century technology (as opposed to yet another floating tower block).

More importantly, Odyssey wasn't just a larger-scale version of the original trio. Although she was three times the size of her stablemates, she both refined the highly successful formula and expanded on it in a totally delightful way, making the suites more sumptuous, the public rooms more glamorous, the service more personable and the whole experience more memorable.

Now, just a few months before the launch of sister Seabourn Sojourn and with third vessel Seabourn Quest set for 2011, the company has announced a visionary range of new itineraries and options for 2011 and 12.

From March 23 (the day the new programme goes on sale) to June 30, the full Europe and Asia schedule of voyages will be available at special promotional fares from £2,300 per person. These incredible fares will also include round-trip airfare for the first time, making it the most inclusive launch campaign Seabourn have ever done.

From January 2011 to April 2012, the line will offer its most extensive and diverse menu of itineraries ever, calling at a record 266 ports in 78 countries during 252 scheduled voyages visiting a wide variety of popular destinations and exotic locations across the world. Fares and details will be available on Seabourn’s website on March 23rd, and a lavishly illustrated catalogue will be published in April.

It will feature:

New Itineraries
In 2011/12, Seabourn returns to Canada and New England with a series of 9-day Autumn Maritime cruises on Sojourn, which will include the yacht’s maiden call to New York. Sojourn will also operate six 14-day Patagonian Passage voyages to the picturesque Chilean Fjords, Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands between Valparaiso, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Seabourn Pride remains in Asia for a second season of year-round exotic cruises to major destinations such as Japan, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan. New for 2011, Pride will operate a series of 12-day cruises from Singapore-Bali with calls to exotic ports in Borneo, Sulawesi and Java.

(Big cheers for that Patagonia series, by the way - the ultimate combination of great destination and perfect vehicle)

In early 2012, Seabourn Legend will be based in the Arabian Sea and offer Indian Ocean Delights, with stops to Oman’s capital city of Muscat, also known as “Arabia’s jewel,” and the vibrant city of Mumbai, India. Other new itineraries include a 60-day Stars of the Southern Cross cruise round-trip from Los Angeles to French Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii aboard Odyssey; new seven-day St Petersburg & the Baltic cruises between Copenhagen and Stockholm aboard Sojourn; week-long Gems of the Adriatic and Dalmatian Discoveries cruises round trip from Venice aboard Spirit; an 18-day Path of the Vikings transatlantic voyage from Dover to Quebec, and a 12-day Canada & Colonial Autumn voyage from Quebec City to Fort Lauderdale aboard Sojourn.

New, Exotic Ports of Call
Seabourn’s record number of port visits will include more than 50 destinations that are either maiden calls or ports the line has not visited in years. New stops include Bangaram (Laccadive Islands), and Porbandar, India; Matarani, Peru; Brindisi, Italy; Burnie, Tasmania; Cape Town, South Africa; Chan May, Vietnam; Constantza, Romania; Pointe des Galets, Reunion; Doha, Qatar; Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Port Louis, Mauritius; Fanning Island, Republic of Kiribati; Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; Gili Sudak Island and Waikelo, Sumba, Indonesia; Qaqortoq, Greenland; Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi; the island of St Helena; Sur and Khasab, Oman; Manama, Bahrain; Maputo, Mozambique; and Walvis Bay, Namibia.

New Seabourn Journeys
In 2011/12, Seabourn will offer two new Seabourn Journeys, fully-escorted packages for guests wishing to extend their stays on land. A new 3-night pre- or post-cruise Journey from Sydney, provides an in-depth exploration of the Australian Outback, including a sunset camel safari to a bush barbecue and visits to the breathtaking scenic wonders, the Olgas and Uluru, and the largest monolith on earth, also known as Ayers Rock. Also new is a 5-night Safari Journey from Cape Town, South Africa, to the Singita Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve.

To my mind, it all adds up to a stunning array of luxury cruising and superb destination planning. So, if March 23 (when Seabourn's 2011 programme goes on sale) isn't already in your diary, is should be pretty soon!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

It's Orion, Doubled

Having sung the praises of adventure cruising in general just recently - including our truly amazing voyage with Nomads of the Seas in Patagonia last month (of which more in future blogs when the earthquake situation in Chile stabilises) - it was interesting to see various 'adventure' themed press releases roll in this week.

One that really caught my eye was from Australia-based Orion Expedition Cruises, who have announced a second ship to join their highly distinctive and exclusive operations Down Under, but operating in the Far East to the likes of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

As well as being another endorsement for the brilliant Adventure Cruise Collection recently put out by The Cruise Line Ltd, it highlights yet again how the market for this kind of holiday is expanding almost exponentially. 'Soft' adventure holidays, with an upmarket, boutique style, are definitely a major growth opportunity, and the Orion press release helps to explain why:

Orion Expedition Cruises is to increase the size of its fleet with the addition of a second specialist expedition cruise ship to join the existing 106-passenger Orion.

Orion Expedition Cruises has released details regarding the forthcoming long term charter of Clelia II, a 100-passenger all-suite luxury expedition cruise ship, to be renamed Orion II. The ship, configured to Orion’s exacting requirements, is scheduled to commence expedition voyages under the Orion Expedition Cruises banner in May 2011.

Making the announcement from onboard Orion in Sydney Harbour, Sarina Bratton, Orion’s founder and Managing Director, was upbeat about the expansion of the business she started in 2004, citing a strong existing market – despite tough current worldwide economic conditions – and growing interest from international markets in expedition cruising in this part of the globe.

A loyal Orion past-passenger base, resurgent growth by independent travellers and significant opportunities afforded through charter and incentives markets have provided the platform for the expansion.

Based on thorough research, and following the success of Orion’s recent voyages, Orion II will be based in South East Asia offering a wide range of expeditions that will include Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, the Indonesian archipelago, Japan and Borneo. Details of destinations and itineraries will be released shortly once voyage details and expedition team scouting are finalised.

Recently subject to a €13 million refurbishment, with emphasis on technical enhancements and upgraded environmental systems, the ship will also undergo additional cosmetic enhancements to bring her fully into the Orion style.

Commenting on the additional range of destinations and itineraries, Sarina said Orion Expedition Cruises will be able to provide exclusive expeditions from Antarctica to Asia, and the Kimberley to Melanesia and New Zealand, with the two ships offering a balance of onboard service and luxury combined with unique personal experiences in environmentally and culturally sensitive parts of the region. Together, Orion and Orion II will be two of the most modern and capable expedition cruise ships cruising in Australasia.

The long term charter of a second purpose built ship able to access remote regions in comfort is a further step to fulfilling the company’s original vision to have Orion Expedition Cruises regarded as the operator of choice in the Asia Pacific.

About Clelia II/Orion II

Clelia II will continue to be marketed and operated until April 2011 by Travel Dynamics International, New York, a leading US expedition cruise company serving the American educational and cultural non-profit groups.

Originally launched in late 1990 as Renaissance Four and re-launched in 2009 after extensive technical refurbishment, redecoration and other improvements, the all-suite Clelia II offers fine small-ship cruise travel. In May 2011, the ship will be renamed Orion II.

This private yacht-like cruise ship accommodates only 100 guests in 50 suites, each of which affords ocean views, measuring 215 to 285 square feet, and are appointed with a sitting area or separate living room, twin or queen-size beds, spacious closets, and air conditioning. Each also features satellite TV, DVD/CD player, telephone, mini-refrigerator and marble-appointed en-suite.

Decorated with rich fabrics, handsome wood, polished brass, rare antiquities and fine works of art, the ship’s public spaces are warm and inviting. Bespoke small-ship amenities include:

· Library with Internet access
· Two lounges with audiovisual facilities
· State-of-the-art gym/spa
· Beauty salon
· Boutique
· Hospital
· Elevator serving all passenger decks
· Dining room
· Two sun decks
· Jacuzzi
· Swimming platform

Clelia II complies with the latest international and US Coast Guard safety regulations and is outfitted with the most current navigation and communications technology as well as retractable fin stabilizers for smooth sailing, an ice-strengthened hull for Antarctic voyages and a fleet of Zodiacs to enable easy shore access in remote locations.

Clelia II carries a staff of 65, providing a ratio of over one crew member for every two guests. Taken together with her limited guest capacity, excellence of design, craftsmanship and material, Clelia II's spaciousness and intimate ambience combine to make her ideal for distinctive cultural and expedition voyages.