Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Pearl Seas Ready For 2014

The long-awaited arrival of new Pearl Seas Cruises (www.pearlseascruises.com) has finally been confirmed with the announcement this week that the brand-new Pearl Mist has arrived in Maryland for final outfitting before going into service in 2014.

The 210-passenger ship will operate various 7-, 10- and 11-night Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes, and New England cruises, with the vessel intended to define a new style of Luxury Adventure small-ship cruising, offering beautiful getaways on a brand-new luxury ship, which aims to combine the latest and highest standards in comfort, safety, technology and communication.

The Pearl Mist (below) features oversized and gracefully appointed staterooms, many with sliding glass doors to private balconies, a glass-enclosed dining room, and various spacious lounges. Guests will enjoy numerous luxuries and amenities.
She will also showcase some of the most beautiful, historic and exotic destinations in Canada and the United States. Guests will have a choice of dozens of magnificent destinations, a few being Québec City, Georgian Bay, Prince Edward Island, Newport, Halifax, Thousand Islands, Saguenay Fjord, Nantucket, Cape Breton Island, Percé, St. Pierre-Miquelon, Martha’s Vineyard and Bar Harbor.
Pearl Seas Cruises will offer captivating enrichment and entertainment programs aboard the Pearl Mist and exclusive shore excursions, which will offer fascinating insight and new perspectives into the distinctive splendors of each destination. 

Additional details on the Pearl Mist and its itineraries will be available in the coming days.

Cruise Miss Takes A Day Visit To 'Norway'

Our special guest blogger Danielle Fear, aka Cruise Miss, provides a fascinating look at the MS Fram of one of our favourite cruise lines, Norway's Hurtigruten, during a day visit at Port of Tyne.

I knew she was small but, as we drove towards the terminal, I couldn’t see anything that resembled a ship. Finally, she peeked out from behind the apartment building that sits directly in front of the dock and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

At just 11,647 tons and taking only 318 passengers, MS Fram may well be small but she is the perfect sized explorer vessel in my eyes.

The chief purser introduced himself and said if I needed anything to make my way back to the front desk where they would assist me, otherwise I was free to explore as I wished. Perfect! I do like guided ship tours but sometimes, especially on a vessel this size, it’s nice to break free and explore at your own pace.

The front desk was located on Deck 4 and offered a rather pleasant seating area. The space was open but the seating was arranged in such a manner as to make it feel like you had your own square living room. One of the sections even had a TV imitating a burning fire on the wall which created a lovely feel - only to be outshone by the floor-to-ceiling windows and an unspoilt view across the ocean.

To the left there was a bistro, small shop and buffet area and to the right a small internet section and some function rooms.

As I made my way back to the other end of the ship I found the Imaq Dining Room, right aft and offering beautiful panoramic views. The tables were prepared and there was a large buffet station in the centre of the room. I was told they do a mixture of buffet dining and waiter service, varying per evening.

On Deck 7 the first door I came across led directly into the gym where I was  greeted by a space larger than anticipated. It was still small, of course, but it felt generous for the ship's size. There was more than enough equipment to keep fitness enthusiasts happy, including treadmills, exercise bikes, ping-pong table, weights and a rowing machine. The door at the back led out on to a small deck area which was home to two bubbling hot tubs.

The pleasant sun deck aft was equipped with numerous tables and chairs and, to my surprise, two huge chimney BBQ’s. Going up to the observation deck, I can only imagine what cruising through the Polar Regions on this ship must be like. It truly is designed for exploring and not missing a thing - rarely is your view obstructed from anywhere on board.

Now it was time to view some cabins and I entered number 539, the Thorvald Nilsen cabin. And what a cabin it was - everything was fitted with a dark wood yet with enough light from the huge window to avoid making it feel small, while the bathroom was one of the nicest I have seen on any ship. There was a large wardrobe space and then a small seating area with TV. This clearly was a high grade of cabin. I did view another, an inside, and the décor contrast was quite different, but it was still spacious and comfortable.

My visit to MS Fram was certainly something different; after all, she is an expedition ship built to explore not entertain with numerous bars, clubs and lounges. She was extremely modern and every crew member I had the pleasure of passing greeted me with a genuine smile and a hearty hello. I chatted with a few passengers and all seemed very happy on board; one couple even said it was their fourth time on the ship, so they clearly enjoy what she has to offer.

She certainly left me hoping I can also experience an expedition voyage one, so, in that sense, she has certainly done her job!

Jazz & Opera With CroisiEurope

Themed cruising continues to be a popular choice for cruise lines (and their passengers), and it is now increasingly the case with river-cruise operators, too. Check out these latest ideas from CroisiEurope that have just dropped in our Inbox.

Jazz cruise along the Seine, October 19
During this voyage on the 78-cabin MS France, guests will be entertained by the Rive Droite-Rive Gauche Swing Band and the exceptional voices of Candice Parise and Liza Michael as they perform tributes to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. Starting in Paris, the cruise will meander along the Seine through Les Andelys, Rouen, Honfleur, Caudebec-en-Caux and Vernon before arriving back into Paris. Onboard, the 78 outward facing cabins all feature panoramic windows and private bathrooms while public areas include a spacious lounge and dining room. Cruise only prices start from €610 per person (approximately £519), including accommodation in an outside cabin with all meals, drinks with meals, entertainment and port taxes.

Verdi Opera Cruise from Venice, July 26
To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Verdi, CroisiEurope is introducing a six-day Opera voyage departing Venice on the 78-cabin MS Michelangelo. As the cruise takes in Di Po Taglio and Polesella, guests will be entertained onboard by the very talented Ophelie Gaillard (cello), Florian Laconi (tenor), Raquel Camarina (soprano) and Stephanie Degand (violin). They will also enjoy a fabulous trip to Verona to attend a performance of one of Verdi’s best known operas – AIDA. Cruise only prices start from €1,225 per person (approximately £1,040), including accommodation in an outside cabin with all meals, drinks with meals, entertainment, opera ticket, transfer to Verona and port taxes.

For more on river-cruising, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

More Yoga With Star Clippers

Tall-ship cruise specialist Star Clippers has added four new dates to its programme of yoga and meditation-themed sailings for summer 2013. Yoga expert Christel Vollmer will offer free daily yoga and meditation sessions on board the 170-passenger tall ship Star Flyer on cruises in the Baltic and the Mediterranean

Yoga classes on all sailings will take place in the open air, under thousands of square feet of billowing sails – the ultimate relaxation for body and soul, enhanced by the fresh sea breezes. Each cruise will begin with an Introduction to Yoga class and every day thereafter, two classes will be held: 60 minutes of power yoga in the morning and a 40-minute wind-down class at sunset, followed by meditation. 

Christel will also deliver lectures on yoga for slimming, yoga for back care and power yoga, or astanga. All classes are completely optional; the ships will continue their normal progamme of activities and ports of call and guests are welcome to do as many or as few classes as they like.

For those who want to follow a healthy or vegetarian diet during the cruise, Star Clippers’ usual sumptuous breakfast buffets, piled with fresh, seasonal fruits, and magnificent arrays of salads at lunchtime will be available, as well as vegetarian choices at dinner. 

Star Flyer’s new yoga cruises for 2013 include: Stockholm to Travemunde, seven nights, departing July 27 and calling at ports in Finland, Estonia and Denmark, from £1,490 per person, cruise only; Travemunde to Hamburg, six nights departing August 18, calling at ports in Denmark and Sweden, from £1,280 per person, cruise only; and t wo Malaga round trips, each seven nights departing October 5 and 12, calling at Casablanca, Tangier, Cadiz, Gibraltar and Motril (for Granada), from £1,435 per person, cruise only. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Windstar's New Pride For Europe

Windstar Cruises has announced the name for the first of its three new, all-suite, power yachts as Star Pride (above), launching in May of 2014.

Windstar, who acquired the three 10,000-ton vessels from Seabourn Cruise Line, will place newcomer Star Pride in Europe for its first season, offering exciting new voyages which open for bookings on May 14. The names of the additional two yachts will be announced in the coming weeks.
Star Pride and the additional two yachts will fit perfectly into Windstar’s intimate, yacht-style cruising by offering a small-ship luxury cruise with 300 passengers or less in a casually elegant style going to places bigger ships cannot go,” said Hans Birkholz, Windstar’s chief executive officer. “We are thrilled to now be able to offer even more intriguing choices in Europe for the 2014 season.”

The addition of the new yachts is part of Global Windstar, the line’s fleet expansion and new product development initiative. Increasing the size of the fleet enables the line to cruise a global set of itineraries to new destinations, such as Wind Spirit’s much anticipated return to Tahiti and Star Pride’s European voyage collection, which will include new destinations, such as a voyage in the Black Sea. Future options will include opportunities to visit Asia and South America.

The new 'power yachts' are identical, with a guest capacity of 212 each in 106 suites. As the trio enter the fleet, they will all undergo a Windstar branded renovation to add signature experiences, including the line’s famous deck barbecue, the open Bridge policy, and the celebrated sail-away party.

Following the May 2014 introduction of Star Pride, Windstar will take possession of the additional two yachts in April and May 2015, to start sailing in May following their dry-dock period. 
For bookings, click on this link for The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruise specialists.

Saga Launches 2014 Cruise Collection

Join Dame Stella Rimington to uncover tales of espionage; remember the fallen 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War; or join Viking expert James Hodge in Norway - these are just three of 37 exciting new cruise ideas for 2014 unveiled this week by over-50s travel specialist Saga Cruises.

Saga has combined new and surprising itineraries in its latest brochure, with first-time ports of call, expert lecturers and fascinating history all featuring aboard Saga Sapphire and the Saga Pearl II.  There will also be some West End showtime!

The ships will sail from Dover and Southampton, with choices from four-night taster cruises in Europe to a 48-night voyage to the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa or a 35-night Caribbean cruise.

Lest We Forget …
8 nights from £1,071 per person - departs 22 July, 2014
Military experts, authors and historians offer fascinating insights into the human cost of the First World War on this cruise to Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. Some 100 years on, visit the islands of Heligoland, a naval base for the German Empire and the site of the first naval battle of the war; see trenches in The Somme and explore Mons, which saw the first casualties as the British Expeditionary Force held back the first German advance.

Heart of the Mediterranean
19 nights from £2,339 per person – departs 11 September, 2014
Join the celebrations as Malta celebrates 50 years of independence. On this themed history and archaeology cruise, guests will soak up the lively atmosphere with an overnight stay in Valletta on the island’s birthday weekend, as well as exploring the Moorish heritage of Almeria in Spain and unearthing the secrets of historic Lisbon, Cagliari and Tunis.

Summer in the Baltic
15 nights from £1,819 per person – departs 12 September, 2014
Join Dame Stella Rimington, former Director General of MI5, and former BBC foreign correspondent Martin Sixsmith to hear tales of double agents and espionage on this cruise to SwedenFinlandRussia and Denmark. It also includes visits to three of Europe’s newest states – EstoniaLatvia and Lithuania - with an overnight stay in beautiful St Petersburg.  Learn the facts and fiction of national security, including code-breaking at Bletchley Park and undercover Cold War missions.

Mediterranean Medley
15 nights from £1,689 per person – departs 30 October, 2014
There’s no business like show business - that’s the glitzy appeal of this West End-themed cruise to PortugalSpain, Gibraltar and France. Compare the islands of Minorca and Corsica, explore the culture and architecture of Barcelona and enjoy French Riviera atmosphere in Toulon. While on board Saga Pearl II, guests will hear anecdotes from cast and crew and enjoy fabulous music from London’s Theatre land. 

Three new adventure cruises are also offered aboard Saga Pearl II, which include £100 per person towards the cost of excursions for every seven nights spent on board. Select from the 15-night ‘Arctic Explorer’ and ‘Icelandic Explorer’ cruises or take a shorter trip:

On the Trail of the Vikings
7 nights from £974 per person – departs 5 September, 2014
Join Viking expert James Hodge to learn more about these resourceful and feared people as passengers discover Norway’s breathtaking coastline. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage waterfront of Bergen, marvel at the 222 mountain peaks surrounding the town of Molde - with the chance to sail in a replica 11th century Viking ship to the island of Haholmenaor - and take a safari in search of moose and musk-ox.

For more info, follow this link to Saga's cruise pages, or, for more adventure cruising ideas, see this link for The Cruise Line, the UK's adventure-cruise specialists.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Fred Olsen Returns To Liverpool

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is making a welcome return to Liverpool as a departure port this year, with 10 cruises on a variety of exciting itineraries, from a grand 12-night Canary Islands voyage to a four-night mini-cruise. 

The Brit-friendly line has one of the highest numbers of cruise calls into Liverpool in 2013, and Fred. Olsen is a long-standing supporter of the Merseyside region, having welcomed the decision to use Pier Head for turnaround calls as a great opportunity for the historic cruise city to boost its status as a major UK departure port.

And, to underline its huge variety of ex-UK options, Olsen is also offering Harwich and Belfast departures to its list of convenient regional ports this year, along with the recently-announced new ports of Tilbury and Avonmouth in 2014/15. Together, this means the company will be able to offer a choice of 10 different departure ports all around the UK, within only a two hours’ drive from 80% of the population. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's leading cruise-agent specialists.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Greenland + Hurtigruten = Cultural Delight

Hurtigruten prides itself in bringing is guests closer to the local communities where it sails,  and now anyone visiting Greenland this summer on MS Fram will be accompanied by local painter and musician, Miki Jacobsen. With his performances, Miki will introduce the world of Greenlandic culture, with painting, national music, traditional mask dancing and stories from the world of the Inuit, offering unique insights into the country’s life and history. 

Jacobsen’s summer as artist-on-board supports Hurtigruten’s objective to show its guests at first hand the culture and traditions of the region they are travelling through. It is the perfect addition to the ship's existing social events programme in Greenland, which includes guests being invited by local families to partake in a traditional ‘kaffemik’, the Greenland version of a cup of coffee and learn more about their way of life. 

In Uummannaq, there is a welcome by local school children and the chance for them to mingle with guests and, when the ship docks in the Ittileq township, guests, crew and locals join together for a traditional football match that sees sport bringing together different cultures. 

Disco Bay & Southern Fjords – Glaciers and Ice, from £3,356pp:
This 12-day expedition starts in Disco Bay and visits the lesser-known southern parts of Greenland before making its way to Iceland. Available on May 31, the voyage includes 11 night’s full board on the ship, return flight from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq, transfers, landings and lectures by expedition team. Flights from UK to Copenhagen are extra and can be booked by Hurtigruten. Price based on two sharing and on unspecified inside cabin. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's adventure-cruise specialists.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Get Ready For A Dining Delight On Royal Princess

The latest info on the new Royal Princess from Princess Cruises (which has its maiden voyage on June 16) gives us even more reason to relish the arrival of this dramatic newcomer to the cruise ranks, with an alternative dining delight in prospect.

In addition to its many main restaurant options, Royal Princess will feature a wide selection of casual eateries where passengers can grab a snack or enjoy a relaxed meal. The expanded atrium will offer a variety of choices, including Alfredo’s pizzeria (above), the new Ocean Terrace seafood bar, and the International Café. Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy ice cream and crepes at Gelato, while tea lovers can enjoy the new Tea Tower. The poolside Trident Grill will transform into a traditional smokehouse barbecue in the evenings and the Outrigger Bar will feature a range of margaritas accompanied by made-to-order Mexican dishes.

In addition, the ship’s Horizon Court buffet will be transformed with fresh new options. Live stations serving regional delicacies, evening speciality options such as a crab shack and fondue restaurant, expanded seating and, for the first time on Princess Cruises, a dedicated pastry shop. More details on these choices include:

Alfredo’s – Serving up fresh, hand-tossed Neapolitan-style pizzas hot out of the oven, Alfredo’s has become a passenger favourite since its debut on Grand Princess in 2011. On Royal Princess, the sit-down restaurant’s complimentary menu will be expanded to include a variety of Italian antipasti, soups and salads, calzone, pizza baguettes and delicious baked pastas in addition to desserts. Alfredo’s will offer more spacious seating and an open kitchen where passengers can watch as chefs craft the best pizza at sea.

Gelato – Just one deck below, this new gelateria offers a variety of Italian-inspired gelato and ice cream creations. Passengers can have their chosen flavours in a waffle cone or ice cream sandwich. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic sundaes will be available, as well as sweet crespelle with a choice of either nutty banana or spiced apple filling. Or passengers can indulge in a classic banana split - or a pineapple split for an old favourite with a new twist.

International Café – This Princes signature venue will be serving up some new savoury and sweet items, including cupcakes, pies, muffins, pastries, panini sandwiches, fresh-baked cookies and speciality coffees. In addition, a new variety of hot sandwiches with international flavours will be available, including Cuban sandwiches and Mexican tortas. The space will have an expanded seating area, making it perfect to grab a light meal, meet friends for coffee or enjoy a snack while watching the entertainers in the Piazza.

Outrigger Bar – This top-deck bar celebrates throughout the day and includes a margarita bar starting at lunch time, accompanied by made-to-order burritos, fresh tortilla chips with guacamole and Mexican salsa to keep the fiesta going into the night.

 For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's cruise-agent specialists.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tackle A Cyclades Cruise-And-Stay With Star Clippers

Tall ship specialist Star Clippers has introduced a stay-and-cruise package for the school holidays this summer, combining a week on the Greek island of Rhodes with a sailing voyage round-trip from Athens, through the Cyclades islands.

Spend a week soaking up the summer sunshine at the award-winning five-star Rodos Palladium Hotel, situated on a wide, sandy beach at Kallithea, close to Rhodes Town, the island’s capital. As well as a stunning, lagoon-shaped pool, there are three restaurants and four bars, a lavish spa and a children’s club. Laze on the beach or explore the medieval centre of Rhodes Town, which was built by the Knights of St John.

After a week, fly the short distance to Athens to join the 170-passenger Star Clipper for a seven-night odyssey through the Greek Islands. The ports on this cruise are ideal for families, with plenty of beaches to explore, and complimentary water sports activities masterminded by the ship’s sports team. Calls include the Turkish resort of Bodrum, the beautiful Dalyan River, and the islands of Santorini and Hydra.

The cruise-stay holiday costs from £1,999 per person, departing July 13, including flights, transfers, half board in the hotel, full board on Star Clipper and all port taxes. Alternative sailing dates that can be combined with the Rodos Palladium Hotel include August 17 (southern Cyclades) and August 10 and 24 (Northern Cyclades sailing round-trip from Athens to Kusadasi, Patmos, Amorgos, Mykonos and Monemvasia). To qualify for this offer, bookings need to be made by April 30.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Fred Olsen's Global Reach

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has launched its 2014/15 cruise itineraries, to hundreds of amazing and exotic destinations worldwide, from an even greater choice of regional UK ports than ever before.

The Brit-friendly line will be visiting no fewer than 246 destinations – even more than in the previous cruise season – in 85 countries around the globe, with the addition of two new convenient, regional departure ports, Avonmouth and Tilbury, further enhancing Fred. Olsen’s reputation as the ‘local, global cruise line’.

The company will also be embarking on its most ambitious Grand Voyage ever, with an 119-night ‘Exploring the Far East’ sailing on Balmoral, which is seven days longer than its 2013 World Cruise but visits 19 more ports.

The 2014/15 cruise programme will see the fleet of four ships – Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch – sailing from Southampton, Dover, Harwich, Tilbury, Avonmouth, Liverpool, Newcastle, Rosyth (for Edinburgh), Greenock (for Glasgow) and Belfast and adding even more overnight stops in spectacular cities worldwide, in response to guest desire to spend more time ashore in the ports they visit. Fred. Olsen will also be working with destinations to create an even greater link between its cruises and local events, such as the Baltic Festivals of ‘Kieler Woche’ in Kiel, Germany, and the world-renowned Jazz Festival in Copenhagen.

New destinations for 2014/15 include 13 maiden calls on Balmoral’s epic Asia Grand Voyage in early 2015, taking in Galle (Sri Lanka), Ujang Pandang (Indonesia), Naha (for Okinawa, Japan), Tokyo, Nagasaki, Jeju City (South Korea), Dalian (China), Nha Trang (Vietnam), Nathon (Thailand), Malacca (Malaysia), Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Utheemu and Uligamu (Maldives).

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's adventure cruising specialists.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry With Oceania

Epicureans will want to make a note of two special Oceania Cruises voyages early this summer, as the pair of Wine & Food Celebration sailings will enjoy presentations from celebrated chefs and wine connoisseurs, culinary demonstrations, wine tastings and more.

On Marina’s May 6 voyage, South American wine expert Daniel Soto will host wine lectures and tastings featuring the best of South American wines. Soto will be joined by chef and culinary author Paulette Mitchell, who will demonstrate classic South American dishes.

On Rivieras June 23 cruise, Chef Kathryn Kelly of the Bon Appetit Culinary Centre will be joined by several culinary experts, including the the Culinary Institute of America’s Master Baker Eric Kastel, who will share the secrets of great bread making. Renowned New York wine educator, businessman and sommelier Tony Didio will lead a series of wine lectures, tastings and wine pairing presentations throughout the voyage. To complement the wine experience, Master Cheese Expert Max McCalman will be on board to share the secrets of great cheeses and advice on wine and cheese pairings.

Marina “Grand Panama Canal” – May 6; 20 days, Lima to New York City.

Riviera “Mediterranean Grandeur” – June 23; 10 days, Monte Carlo to Rome.

Another special cruise to look out for is a Wine Connoisseur voyage on Marina in September. The "Baltic Odyssey" sailing will enjoy master winemaker Armando Fumanelli, owner of the famed Italian winery Marchesi Fumanelli, who will host a series of wine lectures, tastings and pairings featuring the best of Italian wines and flavors. Located near Verona, the setting of Romeo and Juliet, the Fumanelli winery has been creating exceptional wines since 1470. Young actors from Verona’s drama academy will be on board to perform during select Fumanelli wine dinners offered at La Reserve by Wine Spectator.

MarinaBaltic Odyssey” – September 3; 10 days, Copenhagen to Stockholm.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Be AzAmazed With Azamara

As part of Azamara Club Cruises’ 2013 European season, newly refurbished duo Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey will launch AzAmazing Evenings, exclusive, custom-designed events which will immerse guests in the cultures that intrigue them. The inclusive night touring experiences are bespoke and authentic to the destinations in which they take place. 

The new season also marks the inclusion of boutique wines, international beers and select standard spirits in the ships' restaurants, bars and lounges when open. Travellers eager to experience Europe can also take advantage of up to $2,000 credit per stateroom against the voyage fare when booking flights through the line’s ChoiceAir feature. 

The twin ships will sail European waters through November, calling at familiar favourites such as Monte Carlo, Ibiza and Santorini, as well as some of the more hidden gems such as Sochi in Russia, host to the 2014 Winter Olympics; Cassis in France; and Propriano and Palamos in Spain. For an even more culturally-rich experience, guests can combine two, three or more consecutive sailings that repeat almost no ports and multiply their choices of AzAmazing Evenings and destination immersion.

Throughout the season, guests may also pair their holiday with a sailing that coincides with some of the region’s top cultural events, including the Monaco Grand Prix on 23 May or the British Open on 14 July.  For example, Azamara Quest’s seven-night, Seville April Fair sailing includes an opportunity for guests to experience Seville’s annual spring celebration, including a spectacular midnight fireworks show.  The ship, which sails to many destinations that larger ships cannot get to, docks in the heart of the city, just a short walk from all the festivities.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Monday, 22 April 2013

SeaDream Set For First Costa Rica Season

We're excited to see this new programme from SeaDream Yacht Club in 2013/14, their first voyages around Costa Rica, including several Panama Canal transits. Here's what they say:

This autumn sees the launch of SeaDream's Costa Rica programme, with SeaDream I’s first-ever sailing across the “top” of South America, its first visit to Gatun Lake and first visits to Nicaragua, Costa Rica itself and inaugural sailings through the great Panama Canal. Typical SeaDream I voyages in November and December, such as a 7-night Caldera round-trip “Costa Rica & Panama Discovery” sailing on November 30, start from £2,417 per person, including government fees, handling and port tax.

Costa Rica conjures up images of surfers, hikers, coconut palms and tranquil eco-spas. It is fitting that locals use the phrase "Pura Vida" as both a greeting and a lifestyle philosophy. Pura Vida means 'Pure life', and, for Costa Ricans, it expresses their sense of community, perseverance and resilience, while enjoying life slowly and celebrating good fortune.

For such a small country, it has a big plant and animal population. SeaDream guests may visit Tortuguero National Park, located on the Northern Caribbean side; referred to as the "little Amazon". It is one of the most important places in the world for the protection of the green turtle and home of other fascinating species such as the Gaspar fish, which is considered a living fossil. Majestic birds are abundant, such as the Great Blue Heron and the Northern Jacana.

Costa Rica native and naturalist Christopher Chaves will be aboard as the expert guide. He will lead a variety of nature-based activities and lecture on subjects, including Costa Rica's history, culture, ecology and diversity of its birds, mammals, reptiles, tropical plants and more.

In keeping with the Pura Vida philosophy, SeaDream's Spa has customised each voyage with special emphasis on health and well-being. SeaDreamers can enjoy:

  • Complimentary Daily Sunrise Yoga and Daily Afternoon Tai-Chi on deck (or the beach when possible). 
  • SeaDream's delicious Raw Food menu, available for breakfast, lunch & dinner. All ingredients are raw, organic and vegan (no fish, meat, eggs or dairy), and nothing is heated above 118°F in order to retain all the healthy micro nutrients.
  • Freshly-juiced vegetables and fruits at each meal. Ingredients like ginger root are said to have a variety of medicinal properties, or try Cucumber Juice and Wheatgrass for a detox breakfast.
  • A complimentary mountain bike ashore for exploration or the chance to join the crew-led hikes.
  • Staying hydrated with assorted, homemade chilled fruit teas throughout the day.
  • Workouts in SeaDream's complimentary fitness centre, featuring an expansive ocean view.
  • And the ship's many water toys, including complimentary kayaks and SUPs.

It all comes with the inimitable SeaDream style and six-star service ethic, along with the truly personal experience that only small-ship cruising can provide. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tulips - And Museums - In Amsterdam With Avalon

The re-opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is the perfect reason to book an Avalon Waterways Dutch cruise, not only to marvel at the famous treasures on show in the city but to experience Holland’s culture, architecture and landscapes, which many famous artists drew their inspiration from - painters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen and Halls, who all feature in a Gallery of Honour at the Dutch state museum after its grand opening last week.

Avalon’s 8-day ‘Tulip Time river-cruise takes in all this and more, including the tranquil, open landscapes of Holland and Belgium. Highlights include the Keukenhof’s magnificent spring flowers in amazing displays (above) and the picturesque wooden windmills of Kinderdijk.  Visitors will also enjoy a guided walk in Veere, a canal cruise in cosmopolitan Amsterdam, sightseeing with local guides in Antwerp, Ghent and Middelburg as well as the fascinating city of Maastricht. The voyage is priced from £1,639 per person.

The 8 day ‘Tulips of Northern Holland’ cruise combines the well-known attractions of the Netherlands with those off the beaten track. Cruise from historic Haarlem to explore northern Holland, surrounded in tulip fields, and the charming area of Friesland, famed for its black and white cows. The cruise crosses the Ijsselmeer for a tour of the small town of Hoorn before visiting the pretty coastal town of Enhuizen and its ZuiderZee Museum, the Batavia shipyard in Lelystad, and an historic windmill near the fishing village of Volendam. In Arnhem, guests will visit the the city's Kröller-Müller Museum or nearby Het Loo Palace, and, from Rotterdam, an optional excursion is available to the spectacular Keukenhof Gardens. Highlights also include a visit to the famous cheese-making town of Edam, as well as a canal cruise in Amsterdam. It is priced from £1,609 per person. 

Prices quoted include return flights, seven nights full board deluxe cruise with wine served at dinner, private door-to-door home pick-up service, onboard gratuities,  guided city sightseeing and airport transfers. Extra nights in Amsterdam are available from £85 per person.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury river-cruise specialists.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

No Heligoland - More Time On MSC Magnifica

Danielle Fear, aka Cruise Miss, continues her voyage aboard MSC Magnifica of MSC Cruises with an abortive attempt to visit a rare part of Germany...

Today we should have been ashore in Heligoland but, sadly, our call had to be cancelled. It is a tender port and, by the time we reached our position, Captain Antonio Siviero had to cancel due to the Force 7 winds and a wave height of 2-3 metres. It was decided the conditions simply were not safe enough to carry out the tender from ship to shore process. As I type this now, the wind strength has increased and the ship is moving a little bit.
With an unexpected day at sea, I was quite happy to enjoy a day on board but disappointed to miss the port I was most looking forward to. It is a small island situated 70km from the German mainland and is visited by just a handful of tourists each year. At first glance, it reminded me a bit of Gibraltar but with the top of the Rock shaved off and much smaller. In fact, it was far smaller than I had imagined, but a glimpse was as much as we got.

With all this sudden free time, I decided to take myself back round the ship to find things I had missed over the last few days. They have quite a large shopping section on board, across both the port and starboard sides. One shop is just full of bags and purses (every woman's dream!) and you could easily spend a good hour - and a small fortune - here. I managed to resist the temptation - just! Instead, I had to laugh at a comment made by another passenger, that all the branded items in the MSC Logo Shop had no prices on them. "That meant they were free, right?"

I have to say I like this ship very much, although, at this point, I am convinced I am the only English passenger on board. It has been different because I have never cruised with such a mix of nationalities, or where English is the second (or third, or fourth) language. It’s not been a bad thing, and I have enjoyed listening to people's conversations, although I have no clue what they are saying most of the time.

The ship is also very ‘smooth’. That’s the only way I can describe it. You rarely feel any vibration when the thrusters kick in, unlike other ships where everything not nailed down vibrates and jumps off the table. She is also extremely quiet. During our sail-away from Hamburg last night, we passed a beautiful waterfront residential area and all I could hear were the whistles and shouts of those ashore as they acknowledged our presence. Some of the houses were fantastic, built up right to the top of the hill. In fact, the houses met the shore so gracefully it almost felt as if we were sailing down their front street.

The onboard bars are beautiful, especially the Tiger Bar. I’m not usually one for animal prints but even the carpet in here looks fabulous against the black and beige décor. The Sports Bar, too, is a nice social space. Again, not usually my idea of a good time but I can quite happily sit here and enjoy the atmosphere.

Before my voyage, I had heard mixed reviews about MSC Cruises, but, from my experience I would certainly say give them a try. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on board Magnifica and would definitely do it again. I am sad I must disembark tomorrow in Dover.

Crystal's Ultimate Dinner Party at Sea

Crystal Cruises are inviting foodies to join the “ultimate dinner party at sea" when, for the first time, award-winning Napa Valley vintners Bo and Heidi Barrett and multiple Michelin star-winning Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa will each host one of Crystal's Ultimate Vintage Room Dinners. 

Just 12 to 14 guests (per event) have the opportunity to attend one of the exclusive seven-course, wine-pairing feasts, either while sailing a Mediterranean cruise on Crystal Serenity (starting May 18) or the Black Sea on Crystal Symphony (departing July 13).  Held in the ships’ private Vintage Rooms just once or twice a year, the “dinner tab” to attend is $1,000 per guest, with hosts on-hand to oversee preparations and explain the menu choices. 

Bo and Heidi Barrett (Istanbul to Barcelona):
Between Bo’s Chateau Montelena - the winery whose 1976 Judgment of Paris Chardonnay win was depicted in the recent film, Bottle Shock - and Heidi’s award-winning “cult” 1992 Screaming Eagle, this Napa couple is largely credited with putting Californian wines on the map. They will be personally selecting each vintage served for the evening.

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa (Rome to Istanbul):
The mastermind behind a culinary empire, including Crystal’s Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, Chef Nobu will be creating his first-ever “ultimate” meal for Crystal, accompanied by extraordinary rare wine and champagne pairings. Nobu will also hold autograph sessions, cooking classes and larger omakase dinners throughout the sailing.

Both 12-night voyages boast equally exceptional itineraries. The Serenity sailing overnights in Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix, in addition to overnights in Istanbul and Barcelona and visits to Mykonos, Santorini/Thíra, Sorrento, Bonifacio/Corsica and Florence/Livorno. All-inclusive fly/cruise prices from £3,589 per person, if booked by April 30. The July 13 Black Sea voyage on Symphony explores Rome/Civitavecchia, Sorrento, Sicily/Taormina, Contanţa, Yalta and Sochi, with overnights in Odessa and Istanbul. All-inclusive fly/cruise prices from £4,148 per person, if booked by April 30.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Friday, 19 April 2013

MSC Magnifica To Hamburg!

Continuing the MSC Cruises voyage aboard MSC Magnifica with Danielle Fear, aka Cruise Miss, from Amsterdam to Dover...

Today I had the chance to enjoy the hospitality of Hamburg as MSC Magnifica sailed into our next port of call. We didn’t arrive until 10.30am so it was the perfect excuse to have a short lie in and not worry about rushing off the ship.

I made my way down for breakfast which consisted for me of an English muffin, beans and a hash brown. Yes just one! I love hash browns, so it was best not to be greedy and just resist the temptation to have more than one. The selection of food was pretty impressive once again, though. I bumped into my adopted Dutch family during breakfast and they said I was welcome to join them for the day so I accepted their invitation and we arranged a time to meet.

This was my first experience of having some passengers disembarking and others just simply trying to get off to enjoy the day ashore. I have to admit it was a little confusing; everyone was trying to get through the same exit but what started out as a huge queue went down in less than 4 minutes and we were off the ship before we knew it. It was one of those times when you don’t judge it, just go with it. It actually worked very well because everyone worked together.
Once off the ship we jumped on the Number 111 bus to Landungsbrucken and began exploring. We walked for what felt like miles and passed the beautiful Municipal Building, truly gorgeous both inside and out. The best section was a courtyard at the back, so don’t miss this if you are heading to Hamburg. In front, there is a pleasant square with a few coffee shops and it branches off onto other streets with stores and other places of interest.

We passed church after church and some impressive bridges, one of which is the oldest in the city and links the old town with the new. It was a mix of modern and historical literally joined together in places; different, but nice.

I must admit I found it difficult to navigate and was fortunate having my Dutch friends with me, one of whom could also speak German. Had I been on my own, I doubt I would have seen half as much as I did. I am good with planning and mapping a route, but can’t quite grasp the German language. I took in my route, noted it down in my brain, then checked the map again but was still baffled!

After having walked some distance, we decided to hop on the train at Baumwall one stop back to Landungsbrucken, where we opted for the water taxi back to the ship - good idea until we got on! The brisk breeze made for lumpy water and, within minutes of leaving, the boat was pitching so much we were getting soaked on the open top deck.
Once back, it was time to grab some lunch. I opted for spinach and ricotta pasta and then grabbed a few steamed asparagus spears, a slice of freshly baked baguette and sat down quite content. As I made my way back to take pictures, I came across the biggest carving joint I have seen in my life. I asked the chef what it was and he said ‘It is beef madam, it’s a leg.’ To me, it looked like a whole cow - it was huge. Again, the food on board had proved its worth, and is one of the reasons I'm sure I won't want to get off on Saturday. 

The evening dress code was Casual, so it was nice to have a fun-filled day without the pressure of having to rush back to dress for dinner. Jeans, pumps and a smart jacket would see me right for the night.

Next up - the island of Heligoland and a rare cruise port of call.