Saturday, 15 August 2009

Farewell Black Prince, Hello Marco Polo!

Cruising from UK ports has been on a steady upward curve for the past 10 years and looked to be heading for record levels in 2010, until Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines announced that their beloved Black Prince would be leaving them after this season.

The loss of this small-but-popular vessel - only 11,209 tons but with the history and passenger appreciation level of a megaliner - had threatened to leave quite a gap in the ex-UK cruise portofolio, especially with the departure of other small, traditional vessels like Saga Cruises' Saga Rose.

But, in a move that was both surprising and smart, there will be not one but TWO new choices for fans of cruising from a variety of British ports.

Cruise and Maritime Services have been a player in the ex-UK charter market for quite a few years now, but they had noted the loss of Black Prince and Co and determined that something needed to be done to fill the void. And how.

Forming their own British cruise 'brand,' Cruise & Maritime Voyages, they have extended their charter relationship with the ship's owners and turned it into a year-round proposition sailing from British shores.

Her itineraries (from January 2, 2010) will take her on winter voyages to the Amazon, Orinoco and West Indies, all from the little-used Essex port of Tilbury. In the summer, she will sail for Scandinavia, the Baltic and Russia, again all from Tilbury.

More senior cruisers will also be keen to know Marco Polo will operate as an 'adults only' vessel, meaning passengers will be 16 and up only. So no children's facilities at all, and none of the shenanigans that some of the bigger, family-intensive ships have reported in recent years.

However, not content with adding this long-popular gem (she sailed for many years for the old Orient Lines before NCL unceremoniously ditched that brand in 2007), C&M have also decided to bring another traditional ship into their fold by adding the 17,000-ton Ocean Countess to their stable.

The former Cunard Countess, launched in 1975, she will add more classic British cruise style and a host of options for ex-UK voyaging, including Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Greenock.

Starting in April, she will operate a wide-ranging series of cruises to the Baltic, Scandinavia, Mediterranean and the Canaries, all with that 'no-fly' option which appeals to many. She will also undergo a major renovation (costing some $5million) before becoming a Cruise & Maritime vessel.
So, just when you thought it was time to bemoan the dwindling band of 'old faithfuls' operating to that sector of the market who appreciate that smaller and older can, actually, be quite a pleasant contrast to large and modern, along comes not one but two new options.

All aboard now............!