Archive for the ‘Cruises’ Category

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.

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There are various stories swirling around about the problems that these two lines seems to be experiencing. Both were due to embark passengers on cruises in the next few days – Swan Hellenic (SH) on 3 January from Marseilles, and Voyages of Discovery (VoD) on 4 January from Malaysia – but both cruises have been cancelled and passengers informed. In both cases “operational reasons” are stated as being the cause of the cancellations. There are also reports from passengers booked on subsequent cruises that these, too, have been cancelled. Finally, there are rumours that the two lines may be going out of business, with some sketchy reports of possible buyers for at least one of the ships being shown over it.

The ships themselves seem to be sailing without problems – as I write this SH’s Minerva is en route from Barcelona to Marseilles – so that’s not the “operational reason” involved. Indeed, given that these are two different ships on different sides of the earth, it was always unlikely that technical problems with the ships were the “operational reasons”. However there are connections between the two lines in that they are both owned by, or are part of, the All Leisure Group (ALG).

ALG own other holiday and cruise companies, including Travelsphere and Hebridean Island Cruises. There are reports from customers of Travelsphere that they have received a letter advising them of changes to their forthcoming holidays in that the holidays will now be provided by Page & Moy, a different company altogether. As a result of all these developments it is being suggested that All Leisure Group may simply be going out of business, with some parts of the company being transferred to new owners and other parts not being transferred. But at the moment this is all speculation – all we know for certain is that the new year cruises for SH and VoD have been cancelled.

When I’ve been looking for cruises to book for ourselves I’ve looked at both of these lines and they did look attractive, in terms of the itinerary. However I also felt there were downsides. The two ships – Minerva (SH) and Voyager (VoD) – are both very small, at 12,321 tons for Minerva and 15,271 tons for Voyager. Additionally, I had read reviews that suggested that the on-board quality wasn’t great – that the all-inclusive nature of the cruises was achieved with lowest-common-denominator selections of beers and wines, for example; that cabins were very small; and that (being small) there was a lot of movement while at sea. These rather negative reports, along with the rather high prices, were why I never booked with either of these lines. That said, I also read glowing reviews from  other passengers, especially about the itineraries, shore-side activities, and the on-board lecture programmes.

At one time it looked as if Swan Hellenic was carving a very respectable niche for itself. In 2003 the original (and current) Minerva was replaced by a different ship, imaginatively called ‘Minerva II’. This was in fact one of the R ships, and at that time most were still tied up at various ports following the collapse in late 2001 of Renaissance Cruises who had had them built. At 30,000 tons with (almost) all-balcony accommodation there were and remain exceptional ships. Indeed, they were so exceptional that SH lost Minerva II! At that time the line was owned by P&O and was thus ultimately a part of the Carnival empire. In 2007 Carnival Corp could see a better use for Minerva II and it was transferred to Princess Cruises as Royal Princess. She didn’t last long with Princess, however – in 2011 she was further transferred to P&O and has since borne the name ‘Adonia’. Unfortunately for Swan Hellenic, the transfer to Princess of Minerva II left them without a ship, and the line closed down. It was re-created by Lord Sterling in 2007, and voyages recommenced in 2008 with the previous ship, Minerva. Somewhere during this period the line was acquired by All Leisure Group, which brings us up to today.

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A quick post to say that the reports of Royal Princess’ just-finished refit at Fincantieri say that the main work done was the addition of a mid-ships stairwell. The absence of this has caused a number of complaints among Princess customers, and of course also among P&O customers – Britannia is a sister ship to Royal Princess.

Royal was the first of the Royal Princess class, and was followed by Regal Princess and Britannia. Majestic Princess is due to arrive in 2017 and reports say she will have a mid-ships stairwellwhen delivered.

That leaves Regal and Britannia. I assume that these ships will get the same treatment as Royal.

Here’s a link to a site carrying this news.

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Apparently it’s had British owners (Star Capital Partners) since 2011. (Who knew that B+V was British-owned?)

But no more. It’s been sold to a German firm already active in the same markets – ship repair and super-yacht construction. It’s thought that the acquisition is to increase the new owners capacity.

B+V recently did the refurbishment of QM2.

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I’ve just read that Carnival Corp have placed an order with Meyer for three new 180,000 ton ships, all of them LNG fuelled. Two are for Carnival Cruises, but the third is stated to be for P&O UK. Delivery not before 2020. Here’s a link to the Press Release page on the Carnival Corp site.

More info as I get it….

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BergenArrive-3389It’s just after 11:30 and we have just berthed in Bergen. One advantage of arriving late was that we were able to enjoy the sail in, which was spectacular. The upper decks were all open today – the wind has slackened a lot – and there were a lot of people watching the landscape go past.

We went up to the ‘Promenade’ on deck 18. I wasn’t expecting much from this, but in fact it turned out to be better than I had anticipated. It’s 7 laps to a mile, and Val and I had an gentle amble – a few laps – and took pictures as we went. I could imagine that this promenade would do OK as a site of a brisk early morning walk – 10 laps sounds about right.

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Over the winter I’ve been reading some interesting comments online about how P&O have started to make the check-in time real. Let me explain what I mean by that.

In our Cruise Information booklet there has always been a stated check-in time. We and everyone else have always ignored this, and just rocked up to the terminal whenever we felt like it. In the early days we drove down from Sheffield on the day of the cruise, arriving at Southampton somewhere around 1pm, and then going straight to the terminal. In recent years we’ve tended to drive down the day before, if possible, either all the way to Southampton or to some point close by. We’ve stayed at the Chieveley Services Travelodge (at the M4/A34 junction) several times; we’ve stayed at another Travelodge on the M4 near Reading a couple of times; we’ve stayed at a Holiday Inn near Fareham a couple of times; and we once stayed in Southampton, at the Grand Harbour. (This was for the Grand Event cruise 2012.). All of these have meant that we were near to or even in Southampton from early in the morning on embarkation day, and in these cases we were arriving at the terminal shortly after 11am. Usually this then entailed a wait in the terminal unit midday when check-in begins, but we were generally on the ship around 12:30.

Now, however, we understand that P&O are requiring passengers to stick to their check-in time. (more…)

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