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Malcolm Oliver drew my attention in a post in his blog to an announcement in the last couple of days concerning the development of a new cruise terminal in Dubai. It will be jointly developed by a local agency, Meraas, and Carnival Corporation. Here’s a link to Malcolm’s post, and here’s a link to an article in a trade journal about the announcement.

It so happens that I have an interest in the whereabouts of the cruise terminal in Dubai, as I have just booked myself another of my Asian holidays, for February 2019. I’ll be having a few days in Bangkok followed by a 10 night cruise on Oceana, and because I’m making my own arrangements I’ll have to get from Dubai airport to the (present) cruise terminal at Port Rashid under my own steam – I won’t be able to use the P&O transfers. I was pleased to see that Port Rashid is not too far from the airport, but my interest was piqued by the new announcement. Where will the new terminal be? – will it be a development of the current facility at Port Rashid, or a new one at a different location? Continue Reading »

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I’ve done a few posts over the last year or so about Celebrity’s forthcoming ship, Celebrity Edge. One thing that has maintained my interest in her is that Celebrity continues to be very coy about the details of the public areas on her. For example, if you go to the Celebrity UK website and navigate your way to the page showing the deck plans for Celebrity edge, you’ll see that they still have lots of blank areas with “Coming Soon” overprinted on them, and that’s the way it’s been for ages. This is true for most of the public decks; that is is, decks 15, 14, 5, 4, 3 (part) and 2. (All of the other decks are accommodation decks, and the cabin information has been all present and correct for quite a while.)

But I like to think I’m a resourceful chap so I’ve looked in one or two other places, and I’ve been able to find out quite a bit. There are still some gaps but no many. Here’s what I’ve found out:-

  • decks 16 & 15 – nothing different from what’s on the Celebrity site, unfortunately;
  • deck 14. This is the main Lido deck, and also where you’d expect to find the buffet. On the Celebrity site the area aft of the lifts is blanked out, but I’ve found details of two areas here, the OceanView Cafe and ‘Secondo Bacio’ – possibly a second version of Cafe Al Bacio on deck 4. The OceanView cafe sounds like the buffet. There is also lots of seating indicated around this area;
  • decks 12 – 7: accommodation decks, about which we already have good information;
  • deck 6: most of this deck is accommodation but right at the stern there is a blanked-out area on the Celebrity plans. I think this is an area called ‘Eden’, which will be a speciality restaurant. Here’s Celebrity’s description of it: “Try divine, experiential cuisine at Eden Restaurant to the crescendo of theatrics that close the night while delighting your eyes and ears. We invite you to indulge every sense in a space that transforms from chillful mornings to playful afternoons to sinful evenings“. There’s also a ‘Ramp to Deck 5’ wrapping round the aft-most part of this space;
  • deck 5: this is essentially the Promenade deck, or as much of one as will exist. The area at the forward end is still officially obscured, but that’s got to be the theatre, so I’m not too concerned about that area. Running aft from the theatre the Celebrity site is still obscured, but on my other source I can see the following areas:
    • ‘The Club’;
    • amidships, there’s the ‘Fine Cut Steakhouse’ (port side) and ‘Raw’ (starboard);
    • Aft of them is an open area, then Blu, the standard restaurant for Aqua customers;
    • Aft of that, and occupying the final quarter or so of the deck, is another Eden area. This one is labelled ‘Eden Cafe’ and also ‘Eden Bar’, and of course right at the stern there’s the ‘Ramp up to deck 6’. Rather worryingly there’s also something labelled ‘Entrance’, so that suggests that Eden will have controlled access of some form or other. In fact looking again at the plans for deck 6 I can’t see any connection between the Eden restaurant there and the accommodation area immediately forward of it, so the only way of getting to that restaurant will be via the ramp from deck 5;
  • deck 4: Again, right at the bow is what I assume will be the theatre. Heading aft from there, and starting at the forward staircase, are the following:
    • ‘The Meeting Place’ (port side), then ‘The Club’ (also to port). Opposite that is an area which is still obscured, even on my other source;
    • to port is ‘Le Grand Bistro’ (a speciality restaurant, I presume) and opposite that is the ‘Cafe Al Bacio’;
    • There’s an obscured area right in the centre of this area, between the two venues above;
    • Aft of that to port is the Casino Bar and the Casino;
    • Opposite the casino to starboard is another obscured area – sorry!
    • then we have what look two of the complimentary restaurants, Cosmopolitan and Cyprus (see this earlier post about restaurants on Celebrity Edge);
    • and finally on this deck, and right at the stern, we have yet another are labelled ‘Eden Restaurant’. So it looks as if the full Eden experience will cover three decks….;
  • deck 3: this is quite odd. Once again at the bow there’s what I still assume is the theatre, but still obscured. Then there are oceanview cabins to port and starboard, stretching perhaps two-thirds of the way back. But the area between the cabins is open:
    • approximately amidships there’s something labelled ‘Grand Plaza Cafe’, which suggests that the whole open area is The Grand Plaza; presumably, the lowest level of the atrium. There are some still-obscured areas around here;
    • Aft of the cabins and the Grand Plaza are the other two complimentary restaurants, the Normandie and the Tuscan;
    • and aft of them is a large unlabelled and unobscured area that has to be the kitchen for all of the complimentary restaurants;
  • deck 2: The facilities on this deck are still almost completely obscured, although there is an area amidships that’s labelled ‘Destination Gateway’.

So that’s what I’ve learned. My source for this information is https://cruisedeckplans.com . I have a subscription to this site, but I believe the subscription just removes the adverts and gives access to added content such as photos of specific cabins and areas that have been uploaded by subscribers. I think that the actual deckmlans are available to non-subscribers.

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It’s no secret that P&O are getting a new ship in 2020. She’ll be enormous – bigger than Britannia – but that’s the way things are going.

I did a couple of posts some while ago with the first news about the new ship. First, there was this post with the details that had been announced by P&O. After that I found some deck plans for a very similar ship that’s due to go into service for Aida Cruises, another Carnival brand. This Aida ship – AidaNova – will be the first of this larger class of ships to be finished which is why we already have a lot of information about it.

Olympia is the preliminary name given to the cruise ship

Today I’ve received an email from Bolsover Cruise Club about the P&O ship. It mainly repeats the information that we already had, but it adds something new (to me at least) – a possible name for the new ship. The email links back to a page on the Bolsover site that contains this snippet: “Olympia is the preliminary name given to the cruise ship by P&O Cruises”. That said, I can’t find anything on the P&O site to confirm this, so it could all be rumour.

But they’ll be selling cruises on her before too long, so details should emerge during this year.

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Marella Explorer

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Galaxy in the Santorini caldera, 2007

Malcolm Oliver has posted on his blog that Mein Schiff 1 has left TUI Cruises (Germany) and is on its way to the UK. Once arrived (and having had some sort of refurbishment) it will sail as Marella Explorer, for Marella Cruises.

(Who?, I hear you ask… Well, I gather that ‘Marella Cruises’ is the new brand name for TUI Cruises UK, which in turn was the new brand name quite recently for Thomson Cruises. The Thomson travel empire was taken over by TUI (of Germany) some years ago, of course, and its operations (package holidays, travel agents, flights and the cruise line) were rebranded as TUI in recent years, including the cruise line, and I thought that this rebranding had gone well. In November 2017 however the cruise line was further re-branded ‘Marella’, and all the existing ships were renamed yet again. I have no idea why this was felt to be necessary…..)

But back to Marella Explorer. Continue Reading »

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Oeana in the early-morning light

I’ve been exploring options for cruises in the Arabian Gulf on Oceana, principally for February/March next year. One thing I was tempted by was the thought of mixing the cruise (10 nights) with another holiday destination – perhaps in south-east Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore) or southern Asia (India, Sri Lanka). Doing this would require making amendments to the cruise flights, ideally just booking the cruise on a ‘cruise only’ basis and making my own flight bookings.

So I worked my way through the on-line P&O booking procedure to find out how much this would save, and to my astonishment discovered that the answer was: nothing. You can certainly book the cruise ‘cruise only’, but if you choose that option a warning message appears on screen saying that this will not change the price…. Which seemed a bit harsh.

But then another though occurred to me. I’d been looking solely at Early Saver fares. I’d be taking this holiday on my own so I’d been looking to price it as low as possible. Suppose I looked at the Select fare? Well, it turns out that if you choose the Select fare and then ‘Cruise Only’, you do get a refund – £300 per person. Together with a tiny amount of OBC that the Select fare entitles you to means that booking a Select fare on a cruise only basis is a bit cheaper than booking an Early Saver fare on the same basis – because with the Early Saver you don’t get any reduction for the flights you’re not taking. And of course with the Select fare you get some other benefits: choice of cabin, choice of dining arrangements, and that tiny amount of OBC.

Just to complicate things, there is another factor to throw into the mix. I spoke to Trailfinders about this very option a few weeks ago, and I was told that booking the Early Saver fare, cruise only, would attract a reduction of £150 if booked through them. That would bring the Early Saver fare back under the Cruise Only Select fare, but of course you’d be losing those Select fare benefits I mentioned above. Trailfinders was the only TA I spoke to about this – I’d probably use them for the non-cruise elements of the holiday – but it’s perfectly possible that any TA could provide the same Early Saver cruise-only pricing as they did.

Of course, all of this is only relevant if you want to include the cruise as part of a longer holiday in places other than the Gulf. If all you want is to do the cruise, perhaps with a night or two in the uAE before or after, then the standard P&O pricing including flights would be the best way to go.

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I’ve received an email from Fred. Olsen about the recently-completed programme of refits to the whole of their fleet.

All four of their ships – Black Watch, Boudicca, Braemar and Balmoral – have undergone quite lengthy dry docks in Germany during which they received significant refurbishment. It sounds as if most, if not all, cabins on all four ships have been refurbished with new carpets and soft furnishings and on some of the ship at least – and possibly all four – new larger, flat-screen TVs which include interactive functionality. Then a lot of work seems to have been done in public areas around each of the ships, with the locations of some facilities being changed, new restaurants being created, and general updates being done. There’s an interesting page on the Fred. Olsen website that gives a lot of details, and includes some videos.

The perennial question about Fred. Olsen’s fleet is: are they ever going to order a new-build ship? Rumours about this possibility have been raised periodically for as long as I can remember – which would be about 10 years – but nothing has ever actually transpired. Malcolm Oliver did a post about some current rumours of a new build in his blog recently – here’s a link.

It’s worth remembering just how old the Fred. Olsen ships are: Boudicca and Black Watch are now 46 and 45 years old respectively; Balmoral is 30 years old; and even Braemar, the baby of the fleet, is 25 this year. In fact Fred. Olsen deserve great praise in keeping these older ships in the excellent condition that they are. But sooner or later they will need to be replaced. The last ship they had to relinquish, Black Prince, was let go because she wouldn’t have met the requirement of the updated SOLAS 2010 regulations, and it wasn’t feasible to make the required changes. I’m not aware of any forthcoming ‘Gotcha!’ of this type for the current ships, but it’s always possible, and Fred. Olsen might be faced with replacing one or more ships in the fleet.

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P&O Ventura refit

I’ve had an email from P&O about the refit that their ship Ventura is currently undergoing at a shipyard in France. Having read it, I have to report that there’s nothing terribly exciting going to happen. Most of the work seems to be the fitting of new carpeting to all cabins and suites, plus a number of the public areas: the Atrium, the Oasis Spa and salon, the Saffron restaurant, the Glasshouse, the Waterside and Beach House buffets/casual dining areas, and the Red Bar and Havana lounge. The Waterside and Beach House buffets will also get new tiling and new furniture.

More excitingly, the theatre will get a new LED screen. Apparently Britannia and Azura (Ventura’s sister-ship – already have these, so this is just bringing Ventura into line with them. P&O’s Senior Vice President Paul Ludlow says “…it will really add some wow-factor to stage shows” and “it creates a spectacular experience for the guests”. I’m not quite sure what it will actually, do, however….

But it’s the remaining part of the refit that seems to be exciting P&O the most, and that’s changes to the ‘retail experience’ – i.e., the shops. We’re told that “the ship’s retail area is undergoing a complete upgrade”, and that there will be new brands available. These will include Italian luggage specialists Bric’s, fashion brand Liu Jo, the Swiss watch brand Longines, and others. There will also be changes along the big passageway on deck 7, including an improved, larger Dixons Travel by the photo gallery which will stock “leading brands such as Amazon (?), Apple, Bose, Canon, Fitbit, GoPro and more”. This area will also be recarpeted and the Photo Now digital screen will be moved further aft.

As far as I can work out this is Ventura’s second refit, the first being in March 2013 when she was about five years old – she’s been in service for ten years now. That first refit was a major exercise – it was when the single cabins were installed and The Exchange was reduced in size, The Sanctuary was created, and Ramblas was converted to The Glasshouse. So this year’s exercise seems to be much more minor, at least in terms of major changes.

That said, I can imagine that changing the carpets in *all* cabins and suites (which is what they say they’re doing) must be a huge task. In fact, other than repair and maintenance, it will be the first time that carpets will have been laid in the cabins since they were in situ on the ship. Initially, the carpets are laid in the cabins when they’re constructed in the factory, and the cabins are then furnished, delivered, and installed. So recarpeting the cabins is a serious amount of work.

There is one similarity to the time of Ventura’s refit. I was astonished to see the photo I included with one of the posts at that time, which was an aside about delayed spring time – I’d forgotten. Five years on, another Ventura refit, and another snowy March!

 

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Celebrity have announced a whole load more details about the dining arrangements on their new ship, Celebrity Edge. You can find the details here (Celebrity site); and Malcolm Oliver covered them as well, here.

I’m not going to go through the list exhaustively, just pick out what seems interesting to me.

Complimentary Dining:

This means the traditional Main Dining Room, or MDR. Here we have a definite break with Celebrity tradition. Celebrity (and Royal Caribbean, their parent) have long featured a single, large MDR on their ships. I remember the Orion restaurant on Galaxy, which we cruised on twice; and the Grand Epernay MDR on Celebrity Solstice, which was very spectacular. Both these dining rooms were on two levels, and both were enormous. Now, it seems, Celebrity Edge will have four (smaller) ‘main’ dining rooms, and they will be named Tuscan, Normandie, Cyprus, and Cosmopolitan. These will offer different menus – Tuscan will feature Italian dishes, Normandie will feature French, Cyprus will highlight Mediterranean dishes, and Cosmopolitan will feature “new American with international influences”.

The big question with the traditional dining rooms is “when do we eat?”, and the answer is that Celebrity will still provide both traditional (fixed time and table) and flexible dining options, after a fashion. If you opt for traditional dining you will be assigned to a time and table in one of the four restaurants, but you will have the option to dine in the other three “upon request”. That sounds to me as if you won’t necessarily get your usual time slot (and obviously not your regular table) if you request to go into another restaurant for a meal. And there’s no indication at the moment as to what you should do if you would prefer a regular table and time, but in a different restaurant from the one you’ve been assigned to. I expect that the Maitres’d will be very busy on the first night of the cruise….

Then there’s Select Dining, Celebrity’s name for what other lines call Freedom or Freestyle dining – i.e., different times and, on Celebrity Edge, places each night. For this, Celebrity are going to try to offer everything. They say that if you opt for Select Dining you will be able to reserve a specific time slot, if you want, in the same restaurant, or different restaurants (of the complimentary ones, of course) for each night. Or, you can just show up at random and take your chance. This sounds wonderful, until you think about the impact of having table reservations to manage. Say there are a number of reservations for 8pm (for other diners). You (without a reservation) turn up at the restaurant at 7:45, and are told that there will be a long delay; yet when you glance into the restaurant all you can see are lots of empty tables. They’re being kept empty, of course, for the diners with the 8pm reservations. Alternatively, you turn up at 7pm, get seated, and then find that you are being rushed through your meal because the Maitre’ D needs your table back at 8pm for the reservations. My view is that having a reservation system simply blocks up the freestyle dining system. It’s best, I think, to not have reservations and just have cater for people as and when they turn up. Pretty much as P&O do it, in fact, which in my experience works well.

Special Complimentary Restaurants:

There are two other complimentary restaurants, Luminae and Blu. These are complimentary, but only for passengers in certain classes of accommodation: Luminae for suite passengers, and Blu for passengers in Aqua class cabins. Blu has certainly been around for a while; I don’t know about Luminae.

(Actually, those four MDRs mentioned above sound so tempting that I’m not sure I would want to eat anywhere else, even if I could….)

Speciality Dining: (i.e. at Extra Cost!)

These days no new cruise ship is complete without its extra-cost speciality restaurants (although Viking seem to manage…) so Celebrity Edge will have its compliment thereof. There will be a steak house and a french bistro, and both of those sound perfectly sensible. Then there will be some others which frankly sound – well, I’m not sure. Here’s the list:

  • Magic Carpet: this is the bit of the ship that changes position (honest!). It’s stuck out over the edge (“Edge” – get it?) and can move up and down the ship’s side. By day it will be on deck 5 and will be associated with Raw on 5, and will offer casual sea food dining. At night – well, I think the best thing I can do is quote Celebrity: “As the Magic Carpet makes its way up the side of the ship, it reaches the very top level, where it becomes an extraordinary sky-high restaurant where we host an exhilarating and mouthwatering experience we call Dinner on the Edge. Get ready for a unique, al fresco culinary journey that satisfies your taste buds, your eyes, and your sense of wonder all at the same time.
  • Raw on 5: This will be a sea food restaurant.
  • Rooftop Garden Grill: this will feature a “backyard BBQ-inspired menu”. And the setting will be “a living urban playscape designed to satisfy your inner child“.
  • Eden: “Eden Restaurant is a place where dining is taken to new and exciting places” (Wasn’t that Magic Carpet?) Actually, I think the best thing I can do is point readers to the explanatory page about this one. I can’t wait to see what happens to diners when they hit The Cresendo….
  • Le Petit Chef. Ahem – here’s the quote: “We’re bringing your tabletop to life with Le Petit Chef – an animated character who appears beside your plate and prepares each course you’ll be enjoying right in front of you“. Of course they are.

Bars and Lounges: (this sounds more like it!)

Well, it seems there’ll be 11 of them, but no real details yet.

And that’s it! Who would have imagined that getting some food could be so exciting?

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More on Swan Hellenic

I did a post a few weeks ago about the future of Swan Hellenic. The brand is currently owned by G Adventures who took it over when they purchased a chunk of the failed All Leisure Group at the end of 2016. At the time they said that they would relaunch Swan Hellenic in 2017, but obviously that didn’t happen.

I was at the Destinations Show in London last week where G Adventures had a stand, and I took the opportunity to speak to someone about Swan Hellenic. Unfortunately they didn’t really know anything – the message was “keep watching the website and wait for announcements”. However they did say one thing of interest – my enquiry, which I made early afternoon on the first day of the show, was the fourth or fifth they’d had. So there is some interest in Swan Hellenic out there.

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As I said in my last post, P&O have announced that they are to get another big new ship. This will be delivered in 2022, and will be a sister to the earlier big ship which is due in 2020. As yet, we have no details of either of them.

However….. P&O being part of Carnival Corp, it doesn’t get new ships to its own design. The hull and the organisation of the superstructure (including the open decks) will be shared with all the other ships that Carnival Corp is building to the same design. Of course there will be differences – I’m sure that P&O will get a British design agency to provide a detailed design for the cabins and all the public spaces, but the actual layout will be very similar. For example, while the style of the restaurants and bars will differ from ships of one line to those of another, the actual restaurants and bars will be in the same locations on each ship, and will be the same size on each ship. Similarly, the number of decks – public and accommodation – will be the same. An example would be the similarities and differences between Royal Princess and Britannia.

With that in mind I did a bit of research and found that the first of the new ships to be delivered will be, I believe, AidaNova. She’ll be delivered to Aida Cruises (obviously) at the very end of 2018 – Aida are selling cruises on her for December. And on the Aida Cruises website were the deck plans, which I downloaded and have attached above.

First thoughts – she’ll be big: the superstructure will include six full accommodation decks plus parts of another two, and there will be a further two decks in the hull each of which will be two-thirds accommodation; so call it nearly eight decks of cabins. On the bright side, those cabins in the hull decks will probably be ‘ocean view’ cabins rather than balcony, and therefore perhaps a bit cheaper. I haven’t had the chance to get my head around all the features of the public decks, and in any case those are the areas that are most likely to differ on the P&O ships. However, I did spot one thing: is that a promenade on deck 8, continuing down to deck 7 at the stern? That would be a welcome return if it is – we really missed that on Britannia.

Apologies for the small size of the PDF file, please use the embedded tool bar to get as much from it as you can. Alternatively, here’s a link to the same deck plan on the Aida site – it can be downloaded from there.

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