Ocean Talk

Douglas Ward (54 years in the cruise industry): Comments about cruising, the ships, and other aspects of the cruise experience.

CRUISE UPDATE (20-27 September 2020)

I am presently on a 7-day cruise aboard MSC Grandiosa. In the port of Genoa I had a full PCR test, including a swab.  One hour+ later I was told I was COVID-19 negative, and was allowed to proceed to the check-in area of the terminal (a beautiful historic building). Every passenger had to go through the same procedure – part of the extensive and worthwhile protocols of MSC Cruises. All crew members, before joining the ship, had PCR tests, then were quarantined for 14 days before being tested again. And, once proven COvid-19 negative, were allowed to board, and given further test.

Believe me, this is the way it has to be! Once on board, health protocols are strictly observed and monitored, with continuing, extensive crew training. This is the future of cruising, and all cruise lines who are serious about health should immediately adopt the same multi-point protocols in place at MSC Cruises.

I am deeply impressed with everything so far, and the concern for health this company has.

CRUISE + CRUISE: Tom Cruise has chartered the Hurtigruten cruise ship Fridjof Nansen to house around 200 film production team and around 200 Norwegian workers. It’s all in the name of keeping the production schedule on track for his latest Mission Impossible film (as yet unnamed). The ship is an almost identical sister to Roald Amundsen (both are named after Norwegian explorers). The ship has been chartered until the end of September.

Starting Again

It won’t be back to normal (well, the “new normal”) anytime soon, but there’s a glimmer of hope. MSC Grandiosa started cruising on August 16, with Italian and French passengers. All had to go through pre-embarkation health screening and COVID-19 testing, and shore excursions could only be taken on MSC-organised tours (no going ashore independently).  MSC Magnifica will start again on August 26. Meanwhile, TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2 started cruising at he end of July, for “Blue Water” cruises to nowhere, mainly for the domestic market.

Both companies operated with greatly reduced passenger numbers – thus providing much more space per passenger than when in “normal” operational mode and social distancing in place. So far, all seems to be going well.

Beirut: Following the terrible explosion in Beirut on August 4th, I have been asked about the cruise ship that was a victim in the blast and subsequently capsized and sank. The ship (Orient Queen) was owned by Abou Merhi Cruises (Abou Merhi had previously chartered another ship of the same name from Louis Cruises – a ship originally built for Norwegian Caribbean Line). The present Orient Queen (the one in Beirut) was the former 7,478-gross ton, 152-cabin  Vistamar, built by Union Navale de Levante. It first entered service in September 1989 and was registered in Spain.  The ship had a small four-deck high lobby, and there was always an aroma of diesel fuel in the lobby. I sailed aboard the ship, which had a small “dip” pool, and a shower, but I was rather shocked to find that the water from the shower actually drained back into the pool!

New Cruise Company: It’s an unusual time to introduce a new cruise company, but a new one has just been launched. Miray Cruises plans to operate short Greek Isles cruises starting next month from Piraeus, Greece. However, the company’s online video shows self-help buffets, with passengers helping themselves to food. This is definitely a no-no in this COVID-19 period!

Pandemic notes: On a positive note, Dream Cruises and TUI Cruises operated one ship each on short cruises with domestic passengers, in order to test the waves prior to verifying a “safe to cruise” scenario. I wish them both good luck with these first sailings.

Years: On 21 July 2020 I celebrated 54 years in the cruise industry (when I celebrated my 50th year in the cruise industry, I was on an expedition cruise to the North Pole – it was quite an adventure).

CRUISING UPDATE (July 2020)

Cruise Line Bows Out: Sadly, the UK’s Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) has been forced into administration, despite last-ditch efforts to secure additional financing for the company and its owners (South Quay Travel Limited). CMV operated a number of cruise ships, mainly for its British, Australian, and German passengers.

Cruises Restart: On a more positive note, we have seen the start of the reintroduction of cruises, with both ocean and river cruises for domestic (no-fly) passengers in parts of Europe, and in south-east Asia. So far, there have been no cases of COVID-19.

Several ocean-going cruise lines with large resort ships are contemplating reducing their fleets in order to minimise the huge costs associated with keeping ship under both “cold” and “warm” lay-up conditions in various locations around the world.

Ships sold: Carnival Cruise Line has sold Carnival Fantasy and Carnival Inspiration for scrap. Costa Cruises has sold Costa Victoria for scrap. Holland America Line has sold its Amsterdam, Maasdam, Rotterdam, and Veendam (Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines purchased Amsterdam and Rotterdam, to be renamed Bolette and Borealis). P&O Cruises has sold Oceana to an unknown buyer. No doubt, others will follow as cruise lines ponder the efficiency of their older ships. Watch this space for more information.

CRUISING UPDATE (June 2020)

There is no question that the coronavirus pandemic has severely damaged the cruise industry as a whole, but companies with smaller ships may be better prepared to handle such events than the large resort ships (those carrying over 2,500 passengers), which tend to have many interior (or inside) cabins.

It is a small step, but the first small ocean-going cruise ship (those carrying less than 700 passengers) is already back in service. SeaDream’s SeaDream I started short cruise service in Norwegian waters on June 20, with high demand from Norwegian passengers. Future cruises will depend  on when ports and tourist destinations can open, but I expect that July and August will see more ships being introduced cautiously, with pre-cruise health screening and constant monitoring on board.

The cruise industry, in conjunction with the relevant national and international health and regulatory authorities, has been very busy preparing and agreeing new protocols in terms of operations and procedures. So, it’s a question of “watch this space” because so many people are thinking about their next cruises starting in the late summer months.  

POST-PANDEMIC CRUISING (May 2020)

Cruise ships will need to be COVID-SECURE. It’s as simple as that! But so will ports, tourist destinations, shore excursions, transportation, air travel, and just about everything else.

One thing is certain, and that is the dreadful economic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the cruise industry – made a scapegoat in so much media attention. Large Resort Ships, in particular, became victims.

Another thing that is certain is that the way of cruising will change. Ships will have to adjust to new sanitation regulations, and some onboard features will undoubtedly change, or be adapted (for example self-serve buffets as such will be out, as will “grab ‘n’ go” outlets – in future, food will only be available when served by ship staff).

When will ships go back into service? This will depend on many factors, including the opening of tourist destinations and ports. Think: September 2020 onwards – slowly, although some European river cruises and a small number of ocean cruises will start (for domestic passengers only) are expected  to start in June!

Finally, cruising is a wonderful way to travel and explore our world. I, for one, can’t wait until am able to step aboard again and enjoy the sea (or river), because – for me – cruising is a way of life – and so therapeutic!

CRUISE INDUSTRY FUTURE (April 2020)

Since the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak started, it has taken many cruise lines several weeks to repatriate passengers and crew. Indeed, some companies have deployed their ships to deliver multi-ship crew members to their homeland, notably Indonesia and the Philippines.

When will ships start to enter service again? Well, it won’t be until at least July or August, in most instances, and some cruise companies may struggle to return their ships to active service even before the end of the year. Ports, also, need to be open to cruise ships, and shore excursion operators need to adjust to the changes in ship and passenger numbers. It looks like the Alaska season will be limited to very few ships.

Gathering crew members again, and supplying the ships with food and other essentials entails incredibly complicated logistics. Meanwhile, some cruise companies have had to borrow money to tide them over since the outbreak started. Some companies have laid off a significant percentage of their land-based workforce, while others – some with many years of service – have been furloughed until things get back to some sort of “normality”. But don’t expect that anytime soon.

The cruise industry has also cut back on new ship orders, and delayed delivery and entry into service of ships due to debut during the first half of this year. Consequently, shipyards (particularly the privately-owned yards) have also had to cut their workforces and renegotiate newbuild and delivery contracts due to the outbreak.

So, where will cruising start again first? It looks like China (the origin of the coronavirus outbreak) could be the first region to re-introduce cruising again, but this will depend heavily on ports being opened. Also, river cruising in Europe could conceivably start again soon. Because of their size (most carry fewer than 200 passengers), social gathering spaces are few, and the potential for viral outbreaks is limited.

CRUISE INDUSTRY UPDATE (April 2020)

As we enter the month of April, the whole cruise industry is in limbo, with ships throughout the world either docked or at anchor, with minimal staff and crew on board. However, it is hoped that as soon as the dreaded Covid-19 (coronavirus) alert is over, the cruise lines will be ready to take to the seas again. The demand for cruises appears to be really good, and I, for one, will not hesitate to take the next cruise. I wish all my readers good health, safe in the knowledge that cruising can be extremely therapeutic.

SCARLET LADY DEBUTS (February 2020)

Virgin Voyages is the new kid on the block as far as cruise companies go, and with its much-heralded Scarlet Lady debuting in late February, comes a refreshing twist on the cruise theme. The ship itself carries just over 2,700 passengers (called “Sailors”) and measures a tad under 110,000 tons. If you think: red and grey, you’ve got it, not only with the interior décor, but with the uniforms (a mix of sweat suits, t-shirts  and sleepwear) and sneakers worn by the crew – yes, sneakers. Make no mistake, this is a rock star beach party cruise ship, which sails year-round from Miami.  One thing Scarlet Lady  is not, however, is restful!

CORONAVIRUS (February 2020)

Sadly, many cruise ships in southeast Asia have had to change itineraries, including turn-around ports, and wayward ports of call, as a result of the coronavirus incident in the Chinese city of Wuhan (Hubei province). The port city is also the starting place for many Yangtse River Three Gorges cruises.

Ocean-going cruise companies that have been particularly badly affected include Costa Cruises, Dream Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, which (among others) have had to cancel sailings due to the effects of the “lockdown” procedures in place, and the withdrawal of flights to and from the region. Cruise lines with turn-arounds in ports like Sanya, Shanghai, Shenzhen  and Tianjin (the port for Beijing) in mainland China, and Hong Kong have had to make alternative arrangements, including flights and hotels, for thousands of passengers.

MARINE GAS OIL – TRUE EMISSIONS REDUCTION

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises will be able to significantly reduce soot and particles, and cut emissions from its fleet of cruise and expedition cruise ships in 2020, via the use of marine gas oil. This provides a maximum sulphur content of just 0.1% – a reduction of 80%. This will be achieved using catalytic converters – a more efficient way of reducing emissions than the present scrubber technology used by several cruise lines.

LNG FUELLED SHIPS

A small number of cruise companies have been touting their LNG-powered ships as being the most environmentally friendly of late. The first, the 183,900 ton, 5,000-passenger AIDAnova, debuted in 2018, with CostaNova to follow in 2020. Is LNG the fuel of the future? Possibly, but, hold on a moment. There is no LNG fuel available unless it is brought to a cruise ship in a barge. So, how is the barge delivered? By diesel-powered ships, of course. So perhaps LNG is not quite the environmentally-friendly fuel as is commonly thought. Its delivery methods certainly aren’t!.

NEW BOUTIQUE SHIP?

SAGA Travel has introduced its new Spirit of Discovery and markets it as a “Boutique” ship. However, the ship carries 999 passengers. It is, therefore, NOT a Boutique ship at all. It is, in fact, a Mid-Size ship. Someone tell the marketing department, please!

Just to confirm, here are the relevant ship sizes:

Boutique Ship: 50-250 passengers

Small Ship: 251-750 passengers

Mid-Size Ship: 751-2,500 passengers

Large Resort Ship: 2,501-7,000 passengers

BEYOND THE EDGE

It’s good to see the interest that having a platform that goes beyond the edge of a cruise ship’s hull – particularly among the media. Celebrity Cruises, for example, is touting its Celebrity Edge as being the first moveable exterior platform (for passengers, that is, because many ships have moveable platforms inside the ship for loading and moving stores between various decks). It’s a fine experience

However, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has gone one better, with a glass-floored balcony for two of its suites, and on both port and starboard sides of the pool deck aboard its specialist expedition ships Hanseatic Nature (it debuted in May 2019) and Hanseatic Inspiration (to debut in October 2019). For such a boutique sized ship, this really is a stunning achievement.

AMSTERDAM TAXES CRUISE PASSENGERS

In a rather stupid move, the City of Amsterdam will implement an €8 per passenger tax for cruise visitors (€16 per person if it’s an overnight call). The tax will not be administered to ‘normal’ tourists and visitors arriving by airplane, train, bus or car. This is utter discrimination and could lead to less use of the port and terminal facilities (and jobs).

The tax will certainly dissuade cruise lines from including Amsterdam in their itineraries. Indeed, reaction to the tax has been swift, with MSC Cruises taking the port out of its itineraries starting in 2019. Well done, MSC Cruises. Are the city fathers so stoned that they cannot see that this tax is a deterrent to cruise passengers? It is, in two words, utterly stupid!

DELAYED EXPEDITION SHIPS

Two companies currently building expedition ships have announced delays. They are: Mystic Cruises’ World Explorer, being built in Portugal, and Scenic’s eagerly awaited Scenic Eclipse (it’s the ship’s second delay, due to problems with the shipyard in Pula, Croatia). Companies rely on shipyards to deliver their specialist ships on time, and always sell-out the scheduled maiden voyage. However, this is not exactly a good strategy, simply because, with prototypes, cruise lines should always allow for lateness or problems that can occur during the final fitting-out and equipment supplies. Then it often falls to the travel agents to tell their clients and make alternative arrangements.

LNG SHIPS COMING

The first long-awaited dual-fuel hybrid, capable of using LNG to propel the 183,000-ton ship (AIDAnova), will arrive later this year (although it has been delayed a little). Will LNG work for the cruise industry? Yes, but only if the supply infrastructure is in place. At present, it isn’t. While we know that LNG works, it really will depend on where the cruise lines can purchase the fuel. There are now over 20 LNG-powered cruise ships on order. So, watch this space.

IMAGINATIVE ADVERTISING

I recently noticed an advertisement by a cruise travel agency in the UK. The agency was advertising a Far East in Bloom and Mount Fuji Discovery, for 11 nights. All well and good. The picture above the descriptive information showed Mt Fuji, some nice cherry blossom, and Ise Grand Shrine in Yokkaichi (Mei Prefecture), Japan. The picture was rather nice, showing Mt Fuji in the distance. However, it is not possible to see Mt Fuji from the temple, as displayed. This is an example of artistic licence taken beyond the limit!

It’s a little like an advertisement I saw for an Alaska cruise, by one of the most well-known cruise brands in the USA. The accompanying photo showed a nice white polar bear. However, there are no white polar bears in Alaska, only brown grizzly bears!

NEW SHIPS THIS YEAR

In 2018 some 18 ships are scheduled for delivery. They are (in alphabetical order, by name): American Constellation (American Cruise Lines), Carnival Horizon (Carnival Cruise Line), Celebrity Edge (Celebrity Cruises), Flying Clipper (Star Clippers), Le Champlain and Le Laperouse (Ponant), MSC Seaview (MSC Cruises), National Geographic Venture (Lindblad Expeditions), Nieuw Statendam (Holland America Line), Norwegian Bliss (Norwegian Cruise Line), Mein Schiff 1 (TUI Cruises), Roald Amundsen (Hurtigruten), Scenic Eclipse (Scenic), Seabourn Ovation (Seabourn), Symphony of the Seas (Royal Caribbean International), Ventus Australis (Australis), Viking Spirit (Viking Ocean Cruises), and World Explorer (Quark Expeditions).

CROWD CRUISING

Yes, my new term for cruising aboard the large resort ships. They are simply fantastic flowing theme parts – some with more class (and more classes) than others, but 2018 sees the introduction of some really large ships (over 150,000 gross tonnage). Symphony of the Seas (Royal Caribbean International; 228, 081 gt; 5,518 passengers), is now officially the largest cruise ship in the world. Debuting soon will be AIDAnova (AIDA Cruises; 183,900 gt; 5,000 passengers); Norwegian Bliss (Norwegian Cruise Line; 167,800 gt; 3,900 passengers). Also, introduced in December last year was MSC Seaside (MSC Cruises; 153,519 gt; 4,134 passengers). Passenger numbers are given as lower bed capacity.

HURRICANE IRMA RELIEF EFFORTS

Cruise lines operating in the Caribbean, their crews, shoreside employees and passengers quickly pitched in to Hurricane Irma relief.

Norwegian Cruise Line delivered 35 pallets of supplies to hurricane-ravaged St. Thomas aboard Norwegian Sky and brought back nearly 1,000 stranded visitors and displaced residents. ‘In my 30 years of working for Norwegian Cruise Line, it was my proudest moment,’ president Andy Stuart said on the ship’s return to PortMiami Friday. ‘Hearing the stories directly from those who survived the storm and seeing the emotion and relief on their faces as they stepped off the gangway was a moment I will never forget,’ he added. He also described how crew members had spent the en route time to St. Thomas preparing supplies, from the carpentry team gathering plywood, tarps, hammers and nails to the housekeeping department preparing sheets and towels. Norwegian Sky arrived with 15 pallets of personal donations, including toiletries and clothing.

Royal Caribbean International mobilized three ships to provide immediate help with provisions and evacuation efforts. Both Adventure of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas made stops at St. Maarten and St. Thomas to provide supplies and transport evacuees. Also, Empress of the Seas delivered provisions to Key West. According to a Seatrade news brief, the cruise line has evacuated 1,700 people, delivered more than 20 pallets of medical supplies, 5,539 gallons of water, 7,831 gallons of milk, 4,200 rolls of toilet paper, 67,500 garbage bags and 13,050 pounds of animal supplies.

Also,  parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has committed to match donations up to $1million by passengers and crew from Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises to aid Hurricane Irma relief efforts. Those efforts are via World Vision and include tarps, tents, blankets, medical supplies, hygiene kits, food, buckets, water filters and more.

Carnival Corp. & plc, the Miami Heat Charitable Fund and the Micky and Madeleine Arison Family Foundation are pledging up to $10m in funding and in-kind support. As part of this, 11 Carnival Cruise Line ships carried supplies to the Bahamas and Caribbean island nations that were impacted. Carnival Fascination was chartered by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for relief work from October through February 2018.

The Carnival brand also set up a program enabling passengers to donate directly to Hurricane Irma recovery efforts via Carnival Hurricane Relief. Princess Cruises also created a matching fund through its Community Foundation for employee donations to support hurricane relief via the American Red Cross. The Community Foundation additionally set up an initiative on board Princess ships to gather donations from passengers and crew. These will be matched up to $100,000.

Also, P&O Cruises UK set up a campaign to support hurricane relief through donations directly to UNICEF.

Finally, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line opened its ship for several nights while in the Port of Palm Beach to people needing housing and served free, hot meals to first responders.

Who said that cruise lines were money-grabbing corporation? Well Done from CruiseBerlitz.com!

THE GROWING MARKET FOR CHINA CRUISE TOURISM

Some readers of my Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships guidebook have been asking me lately about the growth in popularity of cruises in China and Japan. With the announcement by the Chinese government that a fifth area was highlighted for domestic cruise tourism, it appears that the only way is up for the tremendous growth in the region. In July I was sailing aboard ships in the area with Chinese passengers. Perhaps the company that knows the area best is Genting Hong Kong, whose Dream Cruises and Star Cruises brands (Genting Hong Kong also owns Crystal Cruises) are particularly good at catering to the local area markets. Several of the major western cruise lines are also well established in the region. AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International all have ships (many of them new) in the region. Most of the ships based in ports like Shanghai and Tianjin, however, operate short cruises, which the Chinese enjoy.

One of the most successful itineraries is one that sails from Shanghai and calls at several ports in Japan, then back to Hong Kong in a 7-day route, aboard SuperStar Virgo. This certainly appeals to the Chinese, who are now able to travel from mainland China, by road, directly into Hong Kong – something that was difficult to do until recently. Passengers from Japan can also embark in Osaka, making it convenient to take a 7-day voyage that includes ports in China. Speaking about Japan, Princess Cruises operates Diamond Princess directly from  Yokohama (close to Tokyo) on a very nice itinerary around Japan.

The only downside of cruising in the region, however, is the weather in the winter, when the Sea of Japan can be extremely choppy, and very unfriendly to ships in the region. This is why the companies then move their ships south to Australasian waters (this is like some of the Caribbean ships moving to the Mediterranean region for the summer).

ALL INCLUSIVE  vs NOT ALL INCLUSIVE

So many cruise passengers are confused by the term “All Inclusive”. What this really means is that drinks (whether alcoholic or not) are included in the cruise fare. However, it’s the cruise line that chooses the drink brands – not you. This is clearly not acceptable for discriminating passengers who don’t want to be told what brands they can and can’t have. Even worse, is that so-called premium brands cost extra – so what’s the point of “All Inclusive” when all is clearly not inclusive?

What some passengers think is that All Inclusive makes it easier, because they don’t have to sign for drinks, which makes it appear convenient. However, with the advent of the “medallion” or electronic wrist band now being introduced by many major players, the potential of not knowing how much you are being charged for any drinks you sign for. So, you could swipe your wrist band or touch a purchase point with your “medallion” and not know just how much you are being charged for that premium brand drink you thought was included!

I am often asked whether “All Inclusive” includes spa treatments. The answer is a resounding NO! There are also other items that are simply not included, such as laundry and dry cleaning, or optional excursions (unless stated as included). So, there you have it.

The tips (gratuities) are going up!

In March, Norwegian Cruise Line upped its tipping required amounts to $13.99 per person per day for categories up to a mini-suite, and $16.99 pppd for suite occupants. Tips for Norwegian Sky are higher, because of its drinks-included 3- and 4-day Bahamas cruises, and are now $18.99 pppd for all categories up to suites, and $21.99 pppd for suite occupants. Where will it all end?

Expedition News: Hapag-Lloyd’s 164-passenger expedition ship Bremen made history when, on 11 February 2017, it reached the southernmost position a ship has ever reached (The ship reached LAT: 78o 44,056’S at LON: 163o 41,644’ W). Congratulations to all concerned in this superb achievement. This happened during a 31-day semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica, from Ushuaia to Bluff. The ship broke the record set by The World, one month previously. Bremen visited the giant iceberg B30, which is more than 1,500 sq.km in size (approximately 26  x 18 nautical miles – a huge beast that can clearly be seen from satellite charts.

Shore Excursions (the new jargon)

Cruise companies are getting more involved these days regarding shore excursions, and the marketing people are coming up with all kinds of phrases like “Total Personal Immersion”. Exploration is another buzzword used in conjunction with shore excursions and onboard destination presentations. It’s all a bit of a rehash of what used to be done many many years ago aboard ships that operated long voyages, such as Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) in the 1970s. showing destinations and “connecting with the locals” in socially responsible ways. There’s just more hype today, and, thankfully, in-cabin televisions that can dedicate one or more channels to shore excursions, including overnight stays and emphasis on overland tours (gosh, we did those in the 1970s, too).

Speaking of long voyages, I have been getting questions from passengers about around-the-world cruises regarding luggage and storage space. In former days, ships like Queen Elizabeth 2 had massive baggage rooms where you could store your luggage. It would be taken from you by the room steward, until it was needed again at the end of the voyage. However, none of today’s ships has such a room, which means that you either have to store your luggage under the bed (if there is space), or left open to view in your cabin. It’s important, therefore, to make sure that you buy a cabin with enough space for a voyage lasting 90 days or more, and, in this regard, the larger the ship, the more cabin space you should be able to find.

February 2017

I seem to have been zipping around the world a little this month, having in sailed in the Caribbean region (from Miami), followed by a trip to, and sailing from, Sydney, Australia. Both were different sized ships, with totally different markets.

I also wanted to see Sydney’s White Bay Cruise Terminal. Well, I did – it’s where I joined one of the ships for a week in Australasian/Tasmanian waters. The glass domed terminal building itself is quite good, but the access road is absolutely appalling – it goes through a disused industrial area – and it’s not a pretty sight! What is Sydney trying to do to the cruise industry? It has to be one of the world’s worst “welcomes” (and I use that word in jest) I have experienced. I pity passengers that have to embark, or disembark from, any ship that is forced to go there.

January 2017

It was a rather busy month making preparations for all the changes to be included in the 2018 edition of the Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships guidebook (and e-book), and, of course, making schedules for ships, flights, and hotels in order to maintain my busy travel schedule. Meanwhile, I hope that you, my readers, are making your own decisions and preparations for your next cruise. Meanwhile, may I wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2017.

November 2016

I went to Tokyo to give a speech/presentation on the state of the global cruise industry, at a special Japanese government-sponsored Cruise Conference organised by the Japan Travel Research Institute. Other speakers included Mr Makoto Washizu (President, Japan Travel Research Institute); Mr David Goh (General Secretary of CLIA Asia); Mr Tsuguhiko Sawanobori (General Manager of Jalan Research Centre); Mr Masato Takamatsu (Director General for the Tourism Risk Management Research Office of Japan Travel Bureau – JTB).

New ship order season is really underway, with several major cruise companies placing orders for new large resort ships. LNG appears to be the latest fad, with 13 ships (out of more than 70 new ships) to be fitted with the technology, which takes up a lot of space for storing the fuel. At present, however, LNG bunkering is only possible in very few ports around the world. Developing bunkering facilities that can be used by cruise ships in a practical manner will be crucial to the ships being able to use it.

August 2016

The 2017 edition of the Berlitz Cruising and Cruise ships is now in the bookshops (the official publication date was October 1st). The book has a fresh new look. It is 736 pages long (32 pages longer than the 2016 edition – and there’s no price increase!). For the first time, it includes a full colour photograph of each ship. The book has lots of new information,  including 32 ways to upgrade your cruise experience (one for each year of the book’s publication). The order of chapters is more user-friendly, and the Ships Rated by Score chart is back – at the back of the book – so you can see at a glance the scores – from the highest to the lowest.

The book also comes with a free app and eBook version – so it’s even better value than ever before. you can purchase it now from www.amazon.com., or your favourite bookstore or online retailer.

July 2016

50 Remarkable Years. Pure Magic!

On 21 July 2016, I celebrated 50 years in the cruise industry, aboard the Russian nuclear-powered 132-passenger icebreaker 50 Years of Victory. I was on an expedition voyage to the North Pole – something I had always wanted to do, but had not been able to achieve previously. The ship – an incredible piece of machinery – is able to operate with paying passengers (expedition participants) only during the short summer months (June, July, and August) because, for the rest of the year, it is at work keeping the seaways clear of ice, as well as rescuing lesser qualified icebreakers. The voyages are organised by Quark Expeditions and Poseidon Expeditions, who charter the ship.

It certainly was a historic voyage for me, and a wonderful way to celebrate my 5oth year of cruising. It was also the ultimate digital detox, because there was no internet connection, or e-mail connectivity (just like in 1965)! There was also 24 hours of daylight, and a real sense of camaraderie among the participants. We also saw polar bears on three separate occasions, and the ship stopped so that we could see close by, without disturbing them.

My first voyage, which I joined on 21 July 1965, was a transatlantic crossing aboard RMS Queen Elizabeth (the original) from Southampton to New York. I was hooked, and have never looked back. My first book (Berlitz Handbook to Cruising) was published some 20 years later, in 1985. And the rest is history!

June 2016

It was really enjoyable to take a look at the “remastered” Queen Mary 2 (QM2), and I must say that the extensive work carried out – in the technical department, the accommodation and the public spaces – has resulted in a much refreshed ship. A true ocean liner, QM2 now feels more like the ship it should be. There are several changes, but one thing that has remained is the traditional feel of an ocean liner.

Now with a newly installed Verandah Grill, Queen Mary 2 has the same extra-tariff dining venue than smaller half-sisters Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria (both of which are cruise ships pretending to be ocean liners), with menu items chosen to show the art of haute cuisine.

One thing that is immediately apparent as soon as you walk aboard is the carpeting (the carpet now has underlay on all the stairs and foyers, and throughout the public rooms), something that has been noticeably missing ever since the ship debuted in 2004.

Kings Court – the large casual self-serve eatery – has been redesigned and completely refreshed and is now a far more comfortable large bistro-style venue. The expansive food court will, I am certain, become a favourite haunt for many passengers.

Some 35 new cabins were added in a new upper deck section (and discreetly so without altering the profile of the ship), including 15 quite spacious solo-occupancy cabins similar in design to those retro-fitted aboard Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

15 March 2016 (Expedition Ship Orders)

Today comes another announcement about a newbuild, this time from Crystal Cruises. The company has announced it is building a new “luxury” expedition ship, of 25,000 tons (that’s a bit large to get into some of the really tight passages, nooks and crannies of the Antarctic Peninsular, or the remote areas of Papua New Guinea). The ship will carry submersible craft, ATVs, two helicopters (and two landing pads), roving underwater submarines, and lots of other equipment.

Just a few weeks ago, Scenic (known for their excellent river cruises) announced that it, too was building a new “luxury” expedition ship, to include two helicopters and roving underwater submarines.

Both ships have six dining options, and both have two helicopters, underwater submarines, and so on. Both ships are being built in shipyards that have never built an expedition ship before – an interesting new direction.

Finally, if you are thinking of a cruise aboard one of these new ships, you’d better check that your travel insurance includes helicopter flights and underwater taxis (bookings will open for both ship later this year)!

Just a thought

I saw a cruise line advertisement recently. It said “Every Corner of the World for every Bucket List”. I did find it amusing, because I was under the impression that our world – the earth – was round (well, almost round – although it is slightly flattened at the poles). Still, perhaps the marketing bods just hadn’t learned that yet – or perhaps they come from Cornerbrook (Newfoundland). Or, perhaps it’s a cube, after all. Rubik would know!

Wait a moment, though. There are seven continents on Earth (I know that, because I’ve cruised them all), but only six faces on Rubik’s Cube. Now that’s magic (that’s the original name for Rubik’s Cube – the Magic Cube)!

 

Missed ships

I am often asked, during interviews (I seem to have spent a lot of time this year doing those), whether I have ever missed a ship. Well, I have. I also receive many letters from passengers regarding the utter frustration in trying to get to and from their chosen cruise ships as efficiently and smoothly as possible because the cruise line sent them on circuitous flights with idiotic connections.

When all goes well, travel can be wonderful. Travel, however, doesn’t always work as you want it to, and so I thought I would share some of my own experiences. I have only missed joining a ship three times in the 32 years of my role as author of the Berlitz Cruising and Cruise Ships guidebook.

Missed Ships: The first time

The first time was in the summer of 1988. It was due to a fire on an Amtrak train between New York and Baltimore, where I was due to embark aboard a Celebrity Cruises ship (ss Meridian) in the early days of the company, for a one-week cruise to Bermuda.

Missed Ships: The second time

On 10 December I was due to fly on British Airways from London to Johannesburg (a night flight leaving London at 20:10), with a connecting flight (at 11:10 the following morning) to Port Elizabeth (South Africa), where I was due to board the small expedition vessel Bremen, which was due to depart at 17:00 (many passengers had, apparently done an overnight trip to stay and experience a wildlife lodge for a spot of big game animal watching).

Unfortunately, my flight to Johannesburg was delayed by 3 hours. When I arrived in Johannesburg (at 12:30pm), my connecting flight had long gone. British Airways kindly rebooked me on another flight, leaving at 13:05. However, I had to first collect my one checked in bag, then go through immigration and customs, and re-check my bag onto the new flight, then go to the Domestic Terminal (and through security again). Well, that didn’t work, and so I missed my flight. After another scramble, British Airways then tried to rebook me on the next flight (15:45), which would arrive at 17:25, although the flight was full (and the ship was due to leave at 17:00). Somehow, British Airways managed to find me a seat on the flight, and I duly checked in and sent my luggage on its way.

After managing to contact the ship, the pilot and captain very kindly agreed to delay departure until 18:00, at which time the ship had to leave in order to get to the next port (Mossel Bay) on time. So, guess what? The rebooked flight was delayed by 45 minutes, and so I missed the ship anyway! Now I was in Port Elizabeth, with no ship – just a suitcase.

So, I decided to head south to Mossel Bay by car and booked a hotel along the way. The ship, meanwhile, was encountering some bad weather, including some rather choppy sea conditions. When it arrived in Mossel Bay the next day, the port pilot had great difficulty getting aboard. When he did so, he advised the captain that it would not be wise to attempt to get into the tiny harbour to berth the ship alongside (the pier is just big enough for the 8,672-gt, 111.5-meter-long Bremen. Needless to say, the port call was abandoned, and the pilot faced extremely dangerous conditions when he tried to decamp to the pilot boat – it took over 45 minutes to do so. Afterwards, the ship headed for Cape Town.

I was informed of the aborted port call, and decided that, in the circumstances, the only thing to do would be to carry on by extending the car rental, in order to get to Cape Town, which meant a very long journey ahead. I also had to find another hotel somewhere, Cape Town being the destination of choice.

From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town is a road distance of over 500 miles (12,950 km) – along the Garden Route. This encompassed some really beautiful scenery and greenery (it’s amazing how much trees, flora and fauna change during the journey). I did see a few wildebeests along the way, and scores of ostriches came to see me as my car headed south, on Sunday.

Eventually, I arrived in a very windy Cape Town – before the ship – and even made it in time to check in to my hotel and go for dinner (at the “Five Flies”). But I did get to board the ship the following day, before flying back to the UK. The moral of the story is, if you are flying long distance to get to your chosen cruise ship, try to go one day ahead (I didn’t have the luxury of time to do that). It saves a lot of frustration, money, and time!

Missed Ships: The third time

Another time was more recent. In November 2015 I was due to fly from London to Las Palmas, but via Madrid because no direct flights were available. I was in plenty of time at Heathrow, and duly checked in one piece of luggage. However, the first flight was delayed by 55 minutes. But there was no possibility of getting to my connecting flight, because it would leave before my delayed flight could make it in time for me to reach the connection in Madrid (the connecting time was one hour, and I would need to go through immigration and a further security checkpoint). The next flight from Madrid to Las Palmas was at 21:00. It was a two hour flight. But the ship sailed at 21:00. So, again, there was no possibility of joining it.

The next day was a day at sea, and the day after that the ship was in Agadir (Morocco). But there were no flights to Agadir for several days. So, I had no choice but to cancel the London-Madrid-Las Palmas flights with Iberia, and the ship. But then, getting my one piece of luggage back took another four hours! In all, I spent 7 hour at Heathrow. I then had to call for another car (private hire taxi) to come and take me home – a two hour journey from home to Heathrow Airport. It was, to say the least, a complete waste of a day, and I had nothing to show for it except two taxi fares (four hours in total), and a missed ship.

I sincerely hope your travel days are better, and that you allow for any delay when travelling with connecting flights, and consider some alternatives – particularly when flying internationally.