Archive for the ‘Cruise industry’ Category

I’d missed this article on the BBC News site. It makes interesting reading. Perhaps P&O is a little behind the curve – there weren’t many under-45s on our recent cruise to Norway and Iceland – but there gain, perhaps it was also at the wrong time of year.

Anyway, here’s the link. (Not so sure about the “faster and cheaper wifi” comment, though….)

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Part of Dubrovnik harbour

I’m sure many people will have read this story on the BBC News website yesterday (16 July 2017). My response to the story has gone through the usual gamut of reactions – annoyance, analysis of the errors in the article, and eventual acceptance that there is a problem.

I did notice the following issues that I’d take issue with in the story:-

  • the ship in the picture is MSC Divina, and the location is St Mark’s Basin in Venice. Since regulations were introduced for the 2016 season, ships the size of the Divina (which I agree is huge….) no longer call at Venice, nor do they (as Divina did) start and finish cruises there. So that image is certainly a couple of years old;
  • Despite the picture of Venice at top of the article, the text hardly mentions that city. It’s mostly about Dubrovnik and Capri;
  • and the article does accept that cruise passengers aren’t the only visitors to those places.

But – there is no question that many places do experience tourist visitors on a scale that’s hard for them to accommodate; and that the number of visitors is affecting the experience that the visitors have. My own visit to the Acropolis in Athens, for example, was awful, and in Florence we felt that (as the article suggests) we were encountering only tourists or those serving their needs.

Of course, many of these small, comparatively remote places have become much easier to get to in the last couple of decades. It’s not just cruise companies but also budget airlines – easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, and so on – who have made access to Venice,  Dubrovnik or Capri so easy. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to get to Venice even as recently as, say, 1990 – flight to Rome (from where?), possibly followed by a really expensive flight to Venice airport, but more likely a complicated train journey through Mestre to Venice itself. Similarly, Dubrovnik might have been accessible during the 70s and 80s, as communist Yugoslavia followed its independent line (independent of Moscow, that is) but at that time tourism was quite tightly controlled – the great majority of tourists came on package holidays and were encouraged to stay in the resort areas, e.g. Pula or Rovinj in Istria;  visits to other places mainly took place as organised excursions. Then of course the Yugoslav war broke out in 1991 and it was the late 90s, or even the early 00s, before tourism recovered along the Dalmatian coast. By that time the budget airlines, and the cruise lines, were ready with their offerings.

I also think that in the places where the protests are biggest, there is another factor at play. I know that in the case of Venice many of the local people feel that they have lost control of their environment. This isn’t just because of the numbers of tourists, but because of the structure of local government. Many of these places are quite small – the population of historic Venice is around 50,000, for example – but they are included in larger local government units. For example, the municipality of Venice has a total population of about 250,000, some three-quarters of whom live on the mainland and not in the historic city. The elected officials – especially the mayor, who in the Italian system has considerable power – are likely to draw the majority of their support from outside the historic city, and from areas where the concerns will be different. Residents of the historic city may have a different view on tourism promotion from residents on the mainland, for example, but it is the latter – who make up the majority of the municipality’s population – who will have the major say in decisions. It’s also the case that a crucial player in the Venice infrastructure, the Port of Venice, does not appear to be controlled by the municipality; it’s an independent authority (or so I believe). And of course it, too, is mainly based on the mainland (where there are significant container-handling and bulk cargo facilities), so once again the people most connected with the historic city feel that decisions that affect them greatly are being taken by an entity over which they have little influence or power.

I apologise if this is coming across as rather rambling. That probably results from my own feelings, which tilt back and forwards on this issue. Of course I love going to these wonderful places, but more and more I’m wondering if, or to what extent, my presence (along with that of millions of other people, of course) is damaging the very places I enjoy visiting. It’s a difficult issue, and one on which I’m still undecided. Swithering, as the Scots say.

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You might have thought that First Class had disappeared with the advent of cruising in today’s purpose-built cruise ships. But while there are different classes of cabin in today’s ships, from Inside to Penthouse Suites, broadly speaking passengers in all accommodation classes, from suites to inside cabins, share the same facilities with each other. In recent years however that has begun to change – on some ships on some lines, passengers can buy what looks quite like a re-creation of the old First Class experience.

One line – Cunard – never entirely went away from First Class, although it didn’t call it that. But if you’re in either of the Grills Classes – Queens Grill or Princess Grill – then you will eat in a dedicated restaurant, and there are some areas of deck that are reserved for you. It’s interesting is that there are two Grills restaurants, Queens and Princess, not just one, so Cunard see some fine distinctions between the two (Queens Grill is for passengers in the very best suites, Princess Grill is for passengers in lesser suites.) And there is one other big difference between today’s Cunard Grills experience and the former First Class, and that’s that Grills class requires a suite-level cabin. In the old days – and not just on Cunard but also on other lines such as P&O and Union Castle – there were some quite low-quality First Class cabins, e.g. small Inside cabins (indeed, there were often a number of better cabins in Second class). But the crucial point was that however poor the cabin if it was defined as a First Class cabin it gave the cabin’s occupants access to all the First Class facilities, whereas the ‘better’ Second Class cabin was definitely in Second class, and the occupants could only access the ship’s second class facilities.

Next is Celebrity Cruises. (more…)

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MSC Meraviglia (image © Seatrade Cruise News)

It’s time to talk about MSC which over recent years has been steadily growing and growing. Last week their latest and largest ship, MSC Meraviglia, was christened at the STX France shipyard in St. Nazaire and handed over to MSC. With a tonnage of nearly 172,000 and with capacity for 4,500 passengers, she definitely counts as a big ship – she’s the ninth-largest in the world at the moment, I gather.

This is all a long way from MSC’s beginnings in the 90s and early 00s when they had a fleet of small, disparate ships. They gave an indication that they were serious about this cruising business when they ordered two new builds, the Lirica class (MSC Lirica and MSC Opera), at just under 60,000 tons, for delivery in 2003 and 2004. When two very-near sister ships became available following the collapse of Festival Cruises, MSC snaffled them as well – these were MSC Sinfonia and MSC Armonia so at that point (2005) they had four smaller but new ships.

Then they started building like there was no tomorrow. First came the Musica class: these were Panamax ships with a tonnage just over 92,000 and a standard passenger capacity of 2500 or so. Eventually there were four in this class – Musica, Orchestra, Magnifica and Poesia, and they were delivered between 2006 and 2010. They also ordered four ships in the significantly-larger Fantasia class – about 137,000 tons and almost 4000 passengers in standard capacity. These were the Fantasia, Splendida, Divina and Preziosa. MSC Divina managed to get herself caught up in all the arguments about Venice – she was at the time the largest ship regularly sailing in and out of Venice. These four ships were delivered between 2008 and 2013, so they overlapped with the Musica class.

Now the first of the Meraviglia class, MSC Meraviglia herself, has been delivered, and she’s MSC’s biggest ship yet. (more…)

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UNESCO currently lists 1052 sites, world-wide, that are officially recognised as ‘World Heritage Sites’. Italy is the current champion nation – it has 51 world heritage sites (the UK and British overseas Territories has 30). One of Italy’s greatest World Heritage sites is ‘Venice and its Lagoon’, and quite right too.

However, there is a process by which a listed site can be de-listed, and the first formal step in this process is an official statement that the site is ‘In Danger’. The Italian government has apparently been on notice for a few years that Venice might be placed on the ‘In Danger’ list. Formal consideration of this was avoided at last year’s meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee thanks to strenuous lobbying by the Italian government to remove the issue from the agenda, but it may be considered at this year’s meeting of the Committee which will be held in Krakow between 2nd and 12th July. The reason for the possible ‘In Danger’ status is the impact of tourism on Venice, and cruise ships are held to be the worst example of tourism in Venice. With the approach of the committee meeting scapegoats are already being sought should the ‘In Danger listing happen, and the cruise industry seems to be first in the firing line.

Regular readers will be aware that I’ve done a number of articles over the years about the arguments regarding cruise ships in Venice. The present position is:

  • ships with a tonnage over 96,000 are prohibited from traversing St Mark’s Basin, which effectively prevents them from getting to the Venice cruise terminal;
  • a maximum of four ships at a time are allowed in the cruise terminal;
  • efforts are being made to find an alternative channel to the cruise terminal that won’t require a transit of St Mark’s Basin. In practice the only possibility is the restoration of an old channel from the mainland shore to the terminal.

(more…)

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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.

 

 

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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.

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