Burj Khalifa, Dubai, from the walkway to the Dubai Mall

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been away on holiday recently, and therefore missed the announcement of the winter 2018/2019 cruises. I’ve been catching up since I returned.

The obvious eye-catchers are Oceana’s Arabian Gulf cruises. Leaving aside the voyages out and back, the cruises all seem to be for 10 nights, start and finish in Dubai, and include 5 other ports. Abu Dhabi seems to feature on pretty much all of the cruises, while Muscat is a call on all but one of them.

This caught my eye because pretty much when these itineraries were announced I was in – Dubai. This was one of the stops on my recent holiday which was mainly to Singapore. As my flights were via Dubai I took the opportunity to have a couple of nights there on the way home.

I’ll be honest, I came away from Dubai with mixed feelings. I think it’s a very strange place. I visited the Dubai Museum, walked around the Batakia preserved district, and visited the Dubai Mall. It was the museum that left the strongest impression one me. Filled with very effective and evocative displays and descriptions of old Dubai and the Bedouin way of life, I felt that the subconscious message was “This is how we were then – look at what we’ve lost!”. (In contrast, Singapore’s National Museum seemed to be saying “This is how we were then – look at what we’ve achieved!”)

At least in January to March the weather should be kind. ‘Average High’ temperatures should be in the mid- to high-20s (ºC), although the ‘record high’ in March is just over 40ºC – hopefully, no new records will be set during Oceana’s calls. In any case, it should be cooler than in mid summer, when the ‘average high’ goes into the 40s ºC, and the record high is high 40’s. At least it’s a dry heat – although I enjoyed Singapore more in terms of attractions and general life, I have to admit I found the heat in Dubai much easier to take, even though temperatures were about the same (30ºC or just over).

Is there enough to do at these ports on a 10-night cruise in the Gulf? I think there will be attractions in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat, but I’m not sure about the other places. There again, P&O wouldn’t take people to places where there was nothing to do … or would they? Perhaps I need to do some more research.

However, I do think that P&O can take credit for coming up with these innovative itineraries. It will be interesting to find out just how popular they are.

Well, some of them. We have some outline deck plans with lots of information missing – we know that there will be 7 accommodation decks plus a few areas on other decks, and we know quite a lot about those cabins (sorry, Celebrity, “Staterooms”). We also have quite a lot of information about the upper decks (14 to 16) – deck 14 will be the pool deck, 15 will include the Rooftop Garden for use by all passengers (I think) and also another area reserved for passengers in suites, and deck 16 will include the Retreat. And finally, we know her itineraries – from the date of her introduction in December 2018 to the end of period for which we’ve got information – April 2019 – she’ll be cruising exclusively in the Caribbean, doing 7 night itineraries in the Eastern and Western Caribbean alternately.

The stuff we don’t know is all about the lower public decks – decks 2, 3, 4 and 5. This is where the restaurants and bars will be, and so far there’s no real information about them.

So what are the standout features? To me, there seem to be three:

  • “Edge” staterooms with the Infinite Veranda;
  • The Magic Carpet; and
  • The split-level Edge Villa suites.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Infinite Verandas: I do like what I’ve seen of the Infinite Veranda cabins in the video. It looks if two things can be done with these: a) the partition between the cabin and the balcony can be folded away completely, leaving completely open access to the balcony and b) it also looks as the outside of the balcony can be glassed-in. So you can either use the cabin in the conventional balcony fashion; or you can fold away the doors and just walk out to the balcony; or you can put the railing window up, and include the balcony area in an extended, enclosed cabin. That looks good and innovative. (Have a look in the video, starting at 1:58.)

Not all balcony cabins will feature Infinite Verandas. It looks as if there will be a small number of standard balcony cabins with standard balconies, but there won’t be many of them, and it also looks as if they’re located at the forward end of each side of the ship. Concierge and Aqua class balcony cabins – Celebrity’s name for balcony cabins with enhanced fittings, furnishings or services – will also enjoy Infinite Verandas. What does look odd is that suites won’t get Infinite Verandas, as far as I can see. There’s nothing in the accommodation description suites on the Celebrity site that suggests it, and looking at the deck plans there appears to be a little icon on the cabins with Infinite Verandas which is missing from the suites. So suites won’t have the best balconies.

The Magic Carpet: This is an odd one. It’s an interesting idea, but it also looks like it’s come from someone who isn’t familiar with cruise ships! I would have though that combining two such different functions such acting as a tender platform and a restaurant area would be hard – the requirements are so different. I can’t help wondering how much it will actually be used, and for how long. It could end up a real nuisance – if it’s their tender platform then they have to use it whenever they tender, but it sticks out and therefore has to be moved out of the way for docking starboard-side on. Hmm. I wonder how well this has been thought through. Have a look in the video, starting at around 5:00.

Edge Villas: Well, these look great, but I don’t I’ll ever get closer to one than looking at the brochure!

Of course, it’s not entirely good news. As with the Solstice class, it doesn’t look as if there’s a wrap-round promenade. And I’m not sure about the reservation of certain areas exclusively for guests in certain classes of cabin. Smacks of 1st class to me – harrumph, harrumph…. Overall, though, I think there’s a lot to like in this design. Eventually there will be at least 4 Edge-class ships. The second, to be called Celebrity Beyond, will go into service in spring 2020, and the remaining two currently on order will appear in autumn 2021 and 2022.

 

Here’s the video:

Finally (and here’s a shameless plug): if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t posted in the last couple of weeks or so, it’s because I’ve been on a non-cruise holiday to Asia. You can read all about it here.

We watched the last of the Jane McDonald Programmes this evening. Overall, we enjoyed them. I don’t think they were especially about cruising; they seemed to be more about her on a cruise, and given her personality it was mostly her. But if you’re making a TV programme you need a presenter or anchor who is going to engage the viewers, and Jane McDonald certainly did that.

The programmes themselves were varied, and we thought that was due to her own different responses to the different cruises. We got the feeling that she could take or leave the MSC megaship – the best bits of that one were definitely the sequences ashore. The second one, on the small Scottish ship, was very good – she seemed very relaxed in those surroundings and that came through. The third one, we felt, was in direct contrast – she seemed awkward and out of place on the river boat, and seemed very unrelaxed. And we thought the dirndl was a definite mistake!

The final episode was much better, probably the best of the series. She seemed to respond to the ship – medium-sized, not too many people – very positively. Indeed, she was obviously loving the day in the spa, and also the dressing room chat with the dancers. And of course the scenery was stunning. That came across as an enthusiastic endorsement of cruising in Alaska.

Based on the best two programmes I wouldn’t be too surprised if there was a second series. Best moment? – possibly her singing ‘Amazing Grace’ in Fingal’s Cave.

Celebrity have announced that not only will the details of their much-anticipated, much-concealed Celebrity Edge ship (and class) will be available on 13 March, but bookings will open the same day as well. Her first cruise will take place in ‘Fall 2018’ – I imagine we’ll get the actual date on the 13th.

The Celebrity Edge story has been shrouded in mystery. Even now, there’s very little information around about the design of the ship – Celebrity have kept the details very tight. However, here’s a link to a post I did in November with as much information as I could find at that time.

One thing that became obvious as I did the Newbuilds page was the relatively modest size and capacity of this new ship/class. At only 117,000 tons and 2,900 passengers it will almost be a medium-size ship; these days, I would probably regard “large ship” as beginning at around 150,000 tons and 3,500 passengers. So an interesting choice for Celebrity, and perhaps serves to distinguish them more clearly from their parent Royal Caribbean.

Unfortunately I shall be travelling on 13 March – I’m having a non-cruise holiday visiting some places in Asia that I’ve wanted to see for a long while – so it might not be until the weekend afterwards that I can get to cover the revealed details. But if the Lone Pine hotel in Penang has decent wifi, and if it’s too hot in that part of Malaysia to do anything else, I may be able to post something.

Well, this is interesting. There’s a report to the effect that Carnival has ordered two new ships to an enhanced ‘Carnival Vista’ design for delivery in the early 2020s onwards. There’s also an option for a further four ships. The new ships will serve the Chinese market and the design will be tailored accordingly.

What’s interesting about this are two further pieces of information. First, the ships will be built at a shipyard in Shanghai; specifically, at the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co. Fincantieri is involved in the deal, and it seems they will be providing “technical support and design work”. Secondly, it seems that the ships will be operated by a new Chinese cruise brand, which will be a joint venture between Carnival Corporation, China State Shipbuilding Corporation (presumably the owners of the shipyard company), and CIC Capital. This latter is an operating subsidiary of the China Investment Corporation (CIC) which is a sovereign wealth fund and is responsible for investing (part of) the People’s Republic of China’s foreign exchange reserves. In 2014 it apparently had $740Bn in assets under management, so basically it’s a monster.

I’m not sure how these ships map onto the list of new builds I published a couple of weeks ago but I’ll try to get clarification. I’m also not clear how this new cruise brand relates to the presence of Costa in the Chinese market. Up until now Costa had been the favoured Carnival brand for the Chinese market, although Princess is playing there as well. However, it looks as if the first of new ships won’t be available until 2023 which is still five years away. Here’s a link to a press release on the Carnival Corp site.

There are posts flying around this morning from all the usual cruise TAs announcing that P&O and Cunard will be revealing their winter 2018/19 schedules shortly. The timetable seems to be as follows:

  • 13 March: Schedules revealed and ‘pre-registration’ available, for both lines;
  • 23 March: Bookings open for P&O loyalty club Caribbean, Baltic and Ligurian tier members;
  • 27 March: General P&O bookings open for Winter 2018/19 cruises (not 2019 World cruises);
  • 28 March: Bookings open for Cunard World Club members, for both winter cruises and 2019 World cruises;
  • 29 March: General Cunard bookings for all cruises;
  • 30 March: Bookimgs open for P&O 2019 World cruises.

If I learn anything more before those dates I’ll post it here (although I will be away from 6 to 17 March).

We finished all our remaining episodes of The Cruise yesterday evening and we’ve just watched the first of the Jane McDonald programmes so here’s a quick report on what we thought of them.

We watched three episodes of The Cruise last night, and I think we enjoyed them more than we did the first three. It’s always interesting trying to work out why the producers have picked the people to highlight that they did, and also to wonder about the people they didn’t pick. I can see why they picked Timothy, and also Scott the the hotel engineer. Not only personable individually, they worked well as a contrast – Timothy was generally rather over the top but Scott came over as an enthusiastic ‘ordinary bloke’. I’m not sure about Nico the kitchen worker who wanted to work on reception – I never thought that was going to work, and to be honest I found myself cringing a bit during the segments with him. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy the first few programmes so much, and why the final set seemed better.

That said, I thought the content was more interesting in the second half of the series. Without Nico to shepherd, Timothy came more into his own; I liked the scenes with the rest of the guest services team (the sequence with the bags that had been dropped in the water); and while the ‘poo tank’ section was perhaps more information than I really needed it was visually good and revealed some more of the hidden side of the ship. I also enjoyed the glimpses we saw of the bridge  during the sequences with Lauren, the newly-arrived second officer. So for me the series improved as it went along, and I could enjoy another one next year.

We didn’t know what to make of the Jane McDonald programme, however. It’s the first time I’ve really encountered her and she definitely comes across as a larger-than-life person. I enjoyed that aspect of the programme, but I wasn’t sure about the things we saw; the way she spent her time during the cruise. (Although the shark sequence was good.) Of course, it’s very possible that what we saw was a fair reflection of a 7-night Caribbean cruise out of Miami on a big MSC ship…. in which case, I don’t think it’s for me! But the programmes to come will feature cruises of different types – we’re promised a Hebridean islands cruise (possibly on Hebridean Princess?); a river cruise; and an Alaska cruise, on what looked like a Holland America ship – and those will probably generate rather different programmes. Roll on the next programme!