Over recent years Fred. Olsen has made a strong point of their use of regional ports around the UK for passenger embarkation and departure. Their 2017/18 brochure has a page headed “Your local, global cruise line” with a map showing the 10 UK departure ports listed for cruises in that brochure – Southampton; Dover; Tilbury; Harwich; Newcastle; Rosyth; Greenock; Belfast; Liverpool; and Falmouth. Indeed, Fred. Olsen’s use of regional ports has almost become their USP (along with their use of smaller ships), and I’ve always applauded this. But in their recently announced 2018/19 schedule the set of UK departure ports has been reduced by half – there are no departures in that schedule from Tilbury, Harwich, Greenock, Belfast, or Falmouth. (It’s worth stressing at this point that there are no changes to departures prior to the new ones listed in the new schedule – the 2017/18 schedule is unchanged.)

This is a significant change by Fred. Olsen – or seems so – so I contacted them and asked for confirmation and reasons. I’ve received the following reply from their PR team: Continue Reading »

I’ve done a number of posts in the last few years about Liverpool’s cruise terminal. The earliest of these were about the dispute over financing when Liverpool City Council (who own and operate the terminal) announced their intention to start using it for turn-rounds as well as for day calls – the dispute was because national and EU funding had been obtained for the existing structure on the basis that it would be used for day calls only. Then I visited the terminal in 2015 and had its operation, capabilities and limitations explained, and also received news that Liverpool was seeking to build a new terminal capable of handling turn-rounds for much bigger ships – up to 3,600 passengers. Since then Liverpool City Council has been taking this project forward.

The present position, as I understand it, is that a suitable site has been identified – the old Princes Jetty, along the waterfront a short distance north of the current terminal and pontoon. I gather that the plan is for piles to be driven into the river Mersey at that spot and the terminal to be supported on them; then a new linkspan will connect the new terminal to the existing docking pontoon. Before any eventual construction there would need to be various acquisitions and lease extensions, and among the land owners involved is the Duchy of Lancaster which apparently owns the bed of the Mersey!

In and of itself the proposed next step isn’t especially exciting – it’s to seek city council approval to appoint consultants to prepare detailed designs and project plans for the terminal, and to take other preparatory work forward e.g. the costs of the acquisitions and leases mentioned above. But if agreed – and the council will take a decision on 21 April – then it’s a further step forward.

Also emerging at the current time are skeleton proposals to include a new hotel and a multi-story car park in the plan. The hotel, which would be around 240 beds, would hopefully be able to rely on overnight cruise passenger business as a foundation. Car parking facilities would be required anyway to store cruise passengers’ cars while on their cruises, and this would need to be reasonably close to the terminal, but I gather that the latest ideas see the car park as being larger than the required size for just cruise passengers. Although these additions may impact on the timescales to approve and develop the terminal, it’s good to see that ‘joined-up’ thinking is happening – obviously, a new terminal capable of handling turn-rounds for 3,600 passengers will inevitably require accommodation and car parking infrastructure.

I’m pleased to see this project progressing. I believe that if it’s brought to a successful completion it will be the largest cruise terminal in the UK outside Southampton – I’m not aware that any of the other embarkation ports, e.g. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle have anything of this size. Even the London terminals (at Tilbury and Greenwich) are smaller than this. I hope they’re able to bring it to fruition.

Here’s a link to a newspaper story about this.

 

 

Carnival Corporation have just announced that Majestic Princess, the third and most recent ship in the Royal Princess class (OK, fourth if you count Britannia) will spend the ‘Austral Summer’ season, from September 2018 to March 2019, home-ported in Sydney. That’s a bit of a surprise because Majestic Princess has been touted as Carnival Corporation’s biggest-yet commitment to the Chinese market.

Majestic Princess was delivered to Princess Cruises earlier this month, and is currently on her maiden voyage (from Civitavecchia back to Civitavecchia). Then she’s set to do a short Mediterranean season before starting a 56-night voyage from Barcelona to Shanghai on 21 May and arriving at Shanghai on 9 July. On the way she’ll call at Dubai, Cochin, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh city, Hong Kong, and several ports in Japan, plus other ports too numerous to mention.

Interestingly you can’t search for any more Majestic Princess cruises on the Princess website after that date (July 2017). I assume that she will be spending the next year-and-a-bit cruising from Shanghai, on itineraries that aren’t bookable from the main Princess website. If so she will certainly be spending the first winter (2017/18) sailing out of China, but not her second – that’s when she’ll be undertaking these voyages out of Sydney. Is it possible that bookings for the first winter aren’t meeting expectations?

I did a post about a year or so ago when I heard that Santorini was going to introduce a scheme to limit the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the island. This was because the number of visitors were simply overwhelming the available facilities. At its most fundamental, just getting from the ship up to the main town of Fira has become a challenge – you can either use the cable-car which, because of its limited capacity, generally means queueing, or you can 800 feet walk up a steep path, avoiding donkey droppings as you walk and keeping out of the way of the donkeys as well – their view seems to be that it’s their path! Then having got up to Fira, visitors will find that there are few taxis and that the buses are full.

The post last year followed on from the announcement of the intention to apply limits. Obviously there was a further problem last year in that the cruise lines had already published their schedules and sold cruises, so it wouldn’t have been possible to introduce the restrictions scheme at that time. However we are now in 2017 at the beginning of a new summer season and I decided to revisit the topic.

My understanding is that there was an attempt to limit the numbers – or at least manage them – on a voluntary basis during last summer. I’m still trying to get hard information as whether a firm scheme has been, or is being, introduced for this year. If I get further information I’ll post it here.

However I have found some other information that suggests that cruise traffic to Greece is set to fall by about 30% in 2017 generally, compared with 2016.I’m not sure yet of the reasons for this, but it’s possible that among the factors in play may be these: a) cruise lines are reluctant to send ships to (or near) those Greek islands affected by the refugee crisis and b) are also avoiding destinations in Turkey because it’s no longer seen as being as safe or stable as it was. As a result of this the lines are just not sending as many ships into the eastern or southern Mediterranean as was the case in previous years.

In the case of Santorini the fall in numbers is even greater. Someone has done the necessary work and has concluded that expected ship calls there will be 35% lower in 2017 than in 2016. The actual number of calls will reduce from 558 to 363. Of course as ships get bigger the passenger number may not drop by the same extent, but even allowing for that it looks as if the pressure on Santorini should be lower this year than last; and that this may be the result of wider tourism and economic factors rather than any specific restrictions at the island itself.

Oriana at the Amsterdam cruise terminal, 2012

I’ve read a story that suggests that the city of Amsterdam is considering a building new cruise terminal further away from the city centre than the the present one.

I’m sure that many of my readers will have visited Amsterdam on a cruise and will be familiar with the cruise terminal there. It’s quite handily-placed – you can walk from there into the heart of the city. I’ve always reckoned that it takes about 10 minutes or so to get as far as Centraal station (from where trams can be caught) or a few minutes more than that to get to Dam Square. So as long as you’re active, the current cruise terminal is very handily placed.

So why is Amsterdam considering doing this? City officials are worried about the capacity of the city to take further visitors, and they’re looking at the future (this is at least five years away, btw).  The city planners are looking to a time when not only will more ships be calling at the city but they will be bigger, and that this could increase congestion. Apparently the locks at the North Sea end of the NordSee canal – the route into Amsterdam – will be widened in the coming years, possibly to the point where they can accommodate an Oasis-class ship. The planners’ aim is to make Amsterdam city centre a destination for arriving cruise passengers, and not necessarily the destination.

Well, it’s a nice thought and I understand their motivation. Amsterdam is after all a living commercial city, it’s not just a tourist destination. Indeed, arguably tourism should come second to the city’s business which has always been – well, ‘business’. But I’m not sure how successful they’ll be. We’ve been to Amsterdam a few times, and while it’s true that on our last visit we did an excursion away from the city, that was on the second day of the visit; on the first day (or afternoon) we headed straight into the city – had the usual walk around and then found a bar somewhere near Rembrandtplein, if I remember correctly. I have a feeling that walking the canals, visiting the museums, and enjoying a drink will always the No. 1 attraction of Amsterdam. At least from the current cruise terminal we could walk to a point where we could pick up public transport. If a new terminal is any distance out, special arrangements will have to be made to get people into the city centre, and I really don’t think Amsterdam could handle a fleet of shuttle buses every time there’s a big cruise ship in port.

But it’s interesting that the city is considering this. We’ve begun to hear about restrictions on cruise passengers, of one sort or another, from a range of ports around Europe. Venice has already done it, and there was talk about Santorini also restricting the daily passenger load. I have a feeling that it’s inevitable. It would be really interesting to get the figures for the numbers of cruise passengers calling at these popular places 20 years ago and compare them with the figures for today. I think we’d be shocked by how much they’re increased – I wouldn’t be surprised if the average daily passenger load in the popular spots has increased three- or four-fold that time.

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.