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ABTN once again offers its review of deep sea cruising for readers to digest over the holiday period. Many many readers are of course cruise fans but, whilst the English ports report boom times for embarkations, it is mainly the airlines who pick up the business as people tend to go further and further afield in their search for the perfect holiday. Perhaps it is best also to add at this point that there is no such thing as the ideal cruise. Some people prefer to visit a different port every 24 hours (typically Radisson offers this style of trip for its European programme with Voyager, Navigator and Diamond), whilst others, such as six star Crystal, prefer one day at sea and one day in port. You can travel on the very large ships with 3,000 passengers, typified by Royal Caribbean”s Explorer of the Sea series with on board ice rink; Swan Hellenic”s apptly named Discovery Cruises offers Minerva II with 600 other souls, a smaller quieter ship; Seabourn”s purpose-built ultra luxury ships have room for 200 in some style, whilst Hebridean, distinctly British, has just two ships, Spirit (below left) and Princess, one purpose-built with 49 suites and the other, even smaller with just 30 cabins. The choice of ships is very wide and varied, as are the prices.
You can go for a short introductory cruise, which some companies are offering in 2005 or settle down for a trip of a lifetime circling the globe, taking around 100 days. The Cruise information Service now lists 35 cruise companies. Regarding the product and service, you get what you pay for. Some companies include tipping, others alcoholic beverages, whilst landside trips are part of the brochure price with several operators. Certainly for your first cruise package go to a company specialising in that style of holiday. You will probably always go back. ABTN has concentrated on the upper end of the market in this review. But even with the three star cruises it is a fiercely competitive market. EasyCruise, Stelios Haji-Ioannou”s latest venture, is a different concept but even he is considering using travel agents. Only time will tell if it works.
Over a million British residents will have taken a cruise in 2004 following the introduction of 13 new ships during the year. The total number of ex-UK passengers for all river and ocean cruises last year was 1.053m and the 2004 figure is expected to finish around 9% higher. At well over ”500 per trip on average that is big money. In 2005, an extra nine ships will be added to the market, including P&O Cruises' adult only Arcadia (shown at the top of this piece), due to be introduced in April.
Undoubtedly the big news of 2004 was the introduction of the QM2 but that was 12 months ago and in the meantime the world”s largest liner, in spite of some of the media”s inevitable knocking reports, has ploughed the seaways making friends with passengers and hitting the headlines at whichever port it headed to for the first time. It has been full practically all the time. ABTN review of last year however highlights two less news grabbing innovations. These novelties will inevitably become the norm.
When Princess Cruises introduced the Caribbean Princess back in April of this year it featured a massive (30” x 24”) million dollar outdoor screen up on the open deck by the Calypso pool. Watching the stars on the screen and the stars in the heavens, it was hard to imagine that you are at sea in one of the world”s great cruise ships. As the man comes by with the popcorn (complimentary of course) Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton battled out the romantic comedy ”Something”s Gotta Give”. You could order a beer or grab something from the 24-hour buffet. In fact it works just as well in daylight, the children, and adults too, delighted to watch the youthful Judy Garland skip down the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz, 65 years old but sharp and technically perfect. One of the great successes of this year”s cruising season. Princess are fitting screens to all their ships and so are others.
The other major innovation was by the deluxe Italian line Silversea, a many time award winner and offering some of the finest standard cabins at sea (see below). With Silversea you can now entertain guests when in port, this at a time when other cruise lines are being positively negative (clever expression don”t you think?) regarding visitors, on security grounds.
Ideally arrange it with your friends and Silversea prior to departure (you can organize hospitality once on board but it can get complicated). They will then be on the list of approved visitors and will have no trouble joining the ship. Once on board they will be treated just like any other Silversea guest and be able to take advantage of all the ship”s facilities. Complimentary drinks and wine, a fine lunch and a chance to relax by the poolside in the afternoon. If time permits they can take afternoon tea. If it is a night stop dinner can be served in your cabin, in a private room, or join everyone in the restaurant or at terrace caf”. You can show them around the ship or ask one of the crew to do so. In fact it is a terrific sales promotion for Silversea as the visitors may well come back as clients. Great value for $50.
Cruising in 2005
With a choice of 250 ships cruising the high seas it is impossible to know them all, let alone write about them. The best that ABTN can offer is a review of some of the more interesting quality packages available. For those contemplating their maiden cruise it might be worthwhile considering the geographical cruising seasons. Here we see Carnival's Sensation, one of several 'brightly' named ships from the world's largest cruise company, who will debut in the Mediterranean next summer.
For the Caribbean it is all year around with a suggestion to keep away from the September hurricane times. The Baltic is popular from May until August, as is Alaska, the season extended into September. Don”t forget the earlier you go the colder it will be. The Mediterranean is with some companies (Costa for instance) an all the year round experience but in the main cruise lines position ships from the USA to Europe in spring returning across the Atlantic in the autumn (fall). South America and Australasia are popular from December around to February, whilst around the world cruises (those starting from the UK) take about three months and normally leave straight after the new year. You can now go in either direction.
Carnival dominates the cruise line scene, the Florida-based corporation owning German line Aida, Cunard, Holland America, P&O, Princess Cruises, Ocean Village, Swan Hellenic and Windstar. Its history is fascinating, starting with one ship, the former Canadian Pacific Empress of Canada renamed Mardi Graz, building up to today”s enormous fleet. Besides the success of Carnival Cruises itself, perhaps its biggest coupe was the acquisition of Cunard in 1998. In any event each cruise line is now run as a stand alone operation, typically the current Princess brochure giving no mention of sister companies.
The big news for next year is the arrival of P&O Arcadia, the largest ever ship to fly the P&O house flag. Originally laid down as Cunard Victoria (which we will now see in 2007) the new Arcadia, like her distinguished predecessor, is again ”child free” a very successful concept which now needs two ships. The former (and very popular) Royal Princess becomes P&O Artemis later in the year with under 18 year olds banned. Together with Aurora, Oceana and Oriana all the ships operate out of Southampton this summer on a variety of programmes. Ocean Village, a P&O younger people”s brand, with an average passenger age of 43, ten years less than the industry norm, is again based at Palma, Majorca, for the summer, with two different seven night programmes. Also part of P&O, Swan Hellenic”s Minerva II, seen here in the Pool of London, has been well received by its predecessor”s cliental and is attracting newcomers to its unique style of no tipping ”discovery” cruises. Nineteen new ports of call have been added this year. As a ship Minerva II is particularly well laid out with the majority of cabins having a balcony and with only a very few inside suites.
2005 marks the first ever appearance of Carnival in Europe, its latest ”fun ship”, Carnival Liberty, built in Italy and operating eight similar 12 day cruises based at Civitavecchia (Rome) from late July to October. 111,000 tons, 2,974 passengers, 22 bars and lounges and 60% of cabins with private balconies. Liberty is well equipped for the young and young at heart. A return to legendary Transatlantic times is promised with Queen Mary 2 with no less than 26 crossings between Southampton and New York planned for the year. All reports indicate that the new Queen of the Atlantic has settled down well and in particular fly one way and cruise the other is proving very popular. QE 2 will be mainly based in Southampton during the summer, ideal for those who don”t wish to fly.
Holland America is another Carnival brand, now with 13 ships. Four - Westerdam (whose restaurant we show) , Rotterdam, Maasdam and Prinsendam - visit Europe for summer 2005, offering a choice of 25 itineraries. With South America gaining popularity two ships, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, offer South America cruises around Cape Horn from January to April and in November and December 2005. A typical 16 nights at sea cruise from Rio de Janeiro finishes at Valparaiso (Chile), and includes Montevideo, Buenos Aires, the Falkland Islands, Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego, Punta Arenas and the Chilean Fjords. Princess is British but with a US theme. You pay 15% service charge for drinks rather than the 10% P&O figure. Overall it will cost you much the same for an ex-Southampton cruise on P&O Oceana or Sea Princess, sister ships but somehow different. The whole package of Princess is geared up for Americans. Nothing wrong with that.
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) also includes Asia”s largest, Star Cruises, plus Orient Lines with its single ship, the popular Marco Polo, offering traditional cruising not unlike Minerva II, gradually taking the ship around the world. NCL pioneered ”Freestyle” cruising, a concept that has quickly caught on throughout the industry. You can choose as many as ten places to dine in the evening, some with a premium. In August NCL will take delivery of Norwegian Jewel and will base the 92,000 ton, 23,300 passenger liner at Dover for two 12 day cruises before departing at the beginning of September for New York.
ABTN has reported in the past on Silversea (24 June 2004), Crystal (22 December 2003) and Radisson (July 2001 - see Constellation Theatre left), three six star cruise companies, each offering something different. All again will tackle the European premium market in 2005, welcoming back adherents and newcomers. If you have sampled all three it is difficult to make the choice which is better. There is nothing like competition to make the finished product even more superb.
ABTN was restricted to two cruises in 2004. Read about the ships in detail in the issues 28 June (Silver Whisper) and 10 May (Caribbean Princess). Douglas Ward”s Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising 2004 is a sort of 'Janes' directory of cruise ships and an excellent reference work. Remarkable value at ”13.29 from Amazon.