Saturday, 29 May 2010

Cruise and snooze, anyone?

Cruise-and-stay holidays are becoming big business. I know, because Thomson Holidays told me so this week in their latest press release:

Cruise and Stay – The Best of Both Worlds

Thomson Celebration’s New Home Port Increases Cruise and Stay Options

In the past decade. the number of British cruisers has increased by over one million per year, and cruise holidays now account for one in 10 package holiday bookings, according to the 2009 PSA review. When comfort and experiences compete with value for money in the holiday decision making process, Brits are searching for ever more ways to make the most of the holiday budget. That’s why the UK ’s second largest cruise line, Thomson Cruises, has introduced Turkey into its ‘cruise and stay’ programme.

This combination of time at sea with time at a beach resort sees Thomson Cruises not only offer great value on their cruise ships, but to go one better. Teaming a week of cruising around the Med, the Aegean or even the Caribbean on a Thomson cruise ship with a week in a stunning beach resort, quite often on an all-inclusive basis, allows customers to budget for a two-week holiday and get so much more.

For the first time, Thomson Cruises has positioned Thomson Celebration in Marmaris, Turkey. Itineraries sail around the Aegean towards the islands of Mykonos and Santorini as well as the historical ports of Canakkale and Istanbul . The ship being based in Turkey means passengers are able to opt to extend the holiday to two weeks and stay at a selection of 3T to 5T hotels in the beautiful resorts of Olu Deniz, Marmaris or Sarigerme from just £1,171 per person*.

With the rise in people seeking experiences above and beyond traditional ‘bucket and spade’ holidays, Thomson Cruises on board offering of West End-style entertainment, fantastic service from attentive and friendly crew (at no extra charge) and great dining options combine with a fabulous array of destinations to create the very best of both worlds.

OK, I'm definitely prepared to buy into the good-value nature of the cruise-and-stay idea (especially with Thomson's patent charter holiday approach), but unless you do the week's 'stay' part of the holiday first, do you see this being anything other than a 'cruise-and-snooze' on the sybaritic beaches of the Med (or Caribbean)?

To be honest, if I'm going to go away for a full 2-week spell (which, admittedly, is highly unlikely these days; where 'highly' translates to about a 150% chance!), I would much rather opt for a full 2-week cruise which includes some relaxing sea days (and only one set of transfers, packing and unpacking) but still affords the ever-changing scenario that cruising provides par excellence.

But maybe I'm wrong. Is cruise-and-stay the wave of the future; am I in the minority; or am I just wrong? Answers on a postcard, please.....!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Voyage to Murmansk

No sooner, it seems, do we put our focus on adventure-style cruising than all kinds of exciting opportunities for this more offbeat voyaging crop up.

We have already detailed some of them on here at Time Spent At Sea (notably the amazing Chilean Patagonia voyages of Nomads of the Seas), but the latest press release to hit my Inbox highlights yet another aspect of this trend.

Voyages of Discovery have been around for a few years now, using their boutique little MV Discovery (the former Island Princess and 'Love Boat' of Princess Cruises) to explore some of the lesser-known parts of the cruise world.

But the announcement of one special cruise for 2011 really caught my attention, especially for the huge slice of World War II history it represents.
Voyage to the White Sea and Archangel is a fabulous-looking opportunity to travel in the wake of the great Northern convoys that played such a big part in winning the War.

It is probably one of the more unusual itineraries, even by Voyages of Discovery standards, and it is certainly one that would pique my interest (if ever I could afford to take 18 days off!). Not only does it include a terrific sequence of ports of call, VoD will also have a superb range of guest speakers to accompany the voyage, including Enigma machine expert Mark Baldwin.

Here is the full press release:

Voyage to the White Sea and Archangel’, a new 18 day cruise from Voyages of Discovery departing 15th June 2011 has sold 10% of its cabins within the first few days of release. For the majority of passengers the cruise represents a journey to the unknown so this is a remarkable feat in the current market. Tellingly, it is one of the best sold cruises from the summer 2011 programme, despite being one of Discovery’s most expensive cruises with prices from £1,899.

In an industry dominated by ever larger ships and crowds, the team at Voyages of Discovery has taken a bold view on the future of cruising which is paying dividends. It has returned to its grass roots by putting product at the heart of its marketing strategy by offering some of the most fascinating, spectacular and unusual destinations available anywhere on the cruise market.

While other brands build ever larger ships, resulting in compromises on destinations, Voyages of Discovery has capitalised on the benefits of a small ship by visiting new, off the beaten track destinations which will appeal to an increasingly sophisticated and well travelled cruise market. While others have cut corners or added hidden charges in order to woo customers with discounts, Voyages of Discovery has focused on providing unique, great-value travel experiences which are planned meticulously to offer more time on shore.

Voyage to the White Sea and Archangel will see Discovery travelling to the lesser-visited Solovestky Islands, a symbol of Russia’s spiritual past; historic Trondheim, Norway’s ’coronation city’; Archangel, where revolution, war and communism have all left indelible marks; and Murmansk, terminus for the most perilous and infamous of the World War II Allied convoys.

On route, passengers will witness the spectacular view of the midnight sun from the North Cape accompanied by experts including Mark Baldwin from Bletchley Park, who will be bringing one of the few original, working 1944 Enigma machines on board. The guest speakers also include a celebrated historian and natural scientist who will unlock the mysteries of wartime espionage, the legacy of revolution and the Soviet Union.

Voyage to the White Sea and Archangel
follows the success of Discovery’s ambitious Winter 2010/11 programme which includes a 79-day complete circumnavigation of South America, with opportunities to explore landscapes such as the Amazon, the Orinoco, the Falklands and the magnificent Galapagos.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Constellation of Solstice

Since Celebrity Cruises coined the rather ponderous (not to mention downright ugly) word 'Solsticized' in January, we have waited for the full meaning behind it to become evident. At the weekend, guests embarking on Celebrity Constellation in Amsterdam got the full story.

As regular World of Cruising readers (and those who partake of this Blog) will know, the advent of Celebrity's Solstice-class vessels in 2008 brought a new level of big-ship sophistication and style to the premium cruise world, and the line's bigwigs decided that was a good reason to retro-fit a variety of their new ships' features on to their Millennium class vessels. Constellation is the first fruits of these particular labours.

And, following an intensive 15-day dry-dock, the 8-year-old Constellation now boasts some of the most popular venues found on the widely-lauded Solstice Class. These include:

  • The tantalising Tuscan Grille steakhouse
  • The vibrant creperie, Bistro on Five
  • A “cool” new ice-topped Martini Bar
  • The inviting CafĂ© al Bacio and Gelateria
  • Cellarmasters wine bar
Cellarmaster comes complete with Celebrity's state-of-the-art wine serving systems known as “Enomatics,” allowing guests to select and serve wines by the glass, at the touch of a button, while other notable 'Solsticizations' include more sumptuous suites, with all-new furniture, flat-screen TVs, upholstery, bedding and carpeting; restyled staterooms, with entirely new carpeting, flat-screen TVs, upholstery and bedding; and new colour schemes, carpeting and upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class’ stylish, modern design in every public venue.

It all amounts to a dramatic enhancement of a fleet which was already fairly impressive. Or, as Celebrity president and CEO Dan Hanrahan explained: “Our newly-Solsticized Celebrity Constellation is a significant outgrowth of our ‘Designed for you’ brand platform, built around our long-time commitment to identifying and designing what our guests want. By adding Solstice Class features we know our guests love to our already award-winning Millennium Class ships – with the impeccable service our spectacular crew delivers across the entire fleet – we’re confident we have a winning combination, expressly designed for discerning cruisers.”

And, while the marketing spiel, 'outgrowth' and 'brand platform' may be tough to swallow (how about just saying "Our message"?), it definitely serves notice Celebrity intend to be at the forefront of this more stylish version of cruising for some time to come.

* Constellation is the first of the line’s four Millennium-class ships to be “Solsticized.” Infinity and Summit will be similarly refurbished in 2011, followed by Millennium in 2012.

Following her current seven-night Norwegian fjords cruise, Constellation will offer a series of 12-night Scandinavia and Russia cruises, followed by an 8-night Northern Europe and Mediterranean cruise from Amsterdam to Barcelona, where the ship will operate a series of round-trip, seven-night Med voyages, before a 14-night transatlantic voyage departing Barcelona in November for Fort Lauderdale and a winter Caribbean/Panama Canal series.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Celebrity Push Boat Out For Pre-Packaged Drinks

Celebrity Cruises are busy patting themselves on the back with their latest initiative under the rather cumbersome 'Designed for You' marketing platform, but they may well have something.

Several operators (Royal Caribbean for soft drinks, Holland America with their Signature Cocktails Card) have already dabbled in the pre-packaged drinks option, but no-one seems to have done it with such a key eye as Celebrity, who released a big press announcement about it earlier today.

If you can filter out the self-congratulatory tone, it read:

MIAMI, May 3, 2010 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ --Discerning cruisers have long applauded Celebrity Cruises for its award-winning ships' ability to deliver outstanding service, world-class cuisine and enriching activities in a stylish atmosphere. Now, inspired by its "Designed for you" brand platform and guests' positive response to being able to pre-book aspects of their cruise vacation such as shore excursions and specialty dining reservations, Celebrity has created a way for guests to purchase a variety of beverage packages before their cruise.

"We took our guests' favorite beverages and bundled them into packages that are simple to order from home," said Jacques Van Staden, Vice President, Culinary Operations. "By the time guests board the ship, they can relax knowing that their favorite drinks are arranged for; they can then focus on enjoying themselves in the spa, exploring destinations through shore excursions, or simply lounging by the pool."

What it all means in real terms is as follows. Celebrity has created 4 beverage packages - two 'classic' options and two 'premium' options.

The "Classic Non-Alcoholic Package" features soft drinks, bottled and fresh-squeezed juices, premium coffee and bottled water, and is available at $14.95/person, per day.

The "Premium Non-Alcoholic Package" includes everything in the classic non-alcoholic package but adds speciality non-alcoholic coffee drinks, name-brand bottled water, canned energy drinks and flavoured bottled water, smoothies and frozen non-alcoholic drinks, at $18.40/person, per day.

Celebrity's "Classic Package" features everything in the classic non-alcoholic package, plus beers with a value of up to $5 per serving and spirits, cocktails and wines by the glass with a value of up to $8 per serving. It costs $44.85/person, per day.

The "Premium Package" features all the beverages in the non-alcoholic package plus all beers, spirits, cocktails and wines by the glass with a value of up to $12 per serving, and costs $56.35/person, per day. All prices include a standard 15% service charge.

My only question would be: Would people really spend $57/day under normal circumstances (making sure they have at least 5 drinks a day)? Alternatively, would it encourage more people to drink WAY too much?

Of more interest, perhaps are Celebrity's wine packages, which can also be pre-booked. These include the "Sommelier's Package," the choice of a 3, 5 or 7-bottle lineup of premium wines; a wider variety in a "Captain's Package"; or a "Build Your Own" package designed for those who want to maximize their taste in wine while enjoying a discount (at $114, $148.50 and $225 per package).

The "Build Your Own" package allows connoisseurs to select three upper-range bottles of wine that each cost at least $75 and enjoy a 15% discount. Bottles of wine in any of Celebrity's wine packages can be uncorked in one onboard venue, then recorked and stored until the guest is ready to reopen them.

Celebrity's beverage packages, which are sold on a per-person basis, can be purchased up to 4 days before sailing, via the line's website,

Guests also can access the ordering system via a link in Celebrity's electronic pre-cruise documents, which also provide links to facilitate pre-cruise booking of other offerings such as shore excursions, speciality dining reservations and main dining room preferences. However, guests can also purchase the beverage packages onboard after sailing.

When a guest pre-purchases a beverage package, it will flag the check-in system to add corresponding graphic icons per package to the guest's SeaPass card. A guest will simply need to present his or her SeaPass card in bars, restaurants or by the pool, to enjoy the pre-purchased package.

The packages will become available between May 14 and 21, as ships have different launch dates for the new packages. Celebrity Xpedition, the 92-passenger vessel sailing year-round in the Galapagos Islands, already offers complimentary alcoholic beverages and soft drinks as part of the all-inclusive fare. The wine packages are not available on Celebrity's Solstice-class ships.