24 AUGUST 2009

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Airbus crash remains a mystery

FRANCE has officially announced that attempts to salvage the flight recorder from the AF Airbus A330 which disappeared in the South Atlantic on 1 June have not succeeded.  However the French safety authorities have not lost all hope of retrieving the so-called black boxes and are seeking help from other experts.  Whilst the cause of the accident can only be a case of conjecture it is known that a violent storm was taking place in the flight path.  Speculation is that the speed sensors on the aircraft could have provided incorrect readings to the flight deck crew due to icing, thus provoking a sudden stall.  The Captain’s body has been recovered indicating that he might have been undertaking a rest period at the time. www.airbus.com

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Cathay stays British

AIR CHINA, the government-owned flag carrier of the world’s largest country, has agreed to pay HK$6.3bn (US$813m) to increase its stake in Cathay Pacific, only three years after first securing a holding in the Hong Kong airline.  Under the arrangement Air China’s stake in Cathay will grow from 17.5% to 29.99% – just below the takeover threshold.  Cathay Pacific’s controlling investor, the Swire Group based in London, says it intends to remain the airline’s major shareholder and has added a further 2%, the maximum allowed bringing its shareholding to 42%.  Christopher Pratt, Chairman of both Swire and Cathay, said: “It remains the firm intention of Swire Pacific to remain the single largest shareholder in Cathay, as indeed we have been for the past 60 years.” www.cathaypacific.com

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Hilton goes mobile

HILTON HOTELS has launched a mobile service for the UK, allowing travellers to book hotel stays via their mobile phones.  The facility is accessed by visiting hilton.co.uk on mobile devices and launched in conjunction with Dublin-based specialist Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT).  The resource allows users to access and change existing bookings and view hotel pictures and information, such as facilities and directions to a property.  Hilton Mobile is integrated with Hilton’s loyalty scheme, which is an additional bonus.  There is a Web App version for iPhone users, and with the GPS capability of the iPhone, the service will also show a list of nearby Hilton hotels and the distance from the user’s current location. www.hilton.co.uk  www.mttnow.com

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London to Bagdad

GULF AIR is to open next Monday (31 August) what it claims is by far the quickest connecting flight between London and Iraq.  Gulf Air Chief Commercial Officer Mr Willy Boulter says: "There are currently no direct services from the UK to Baghdad and so we have ensured that our service provides excellent connectivity for our customers flying from London Heathrow via our hub in Bahrain.  We believe there will be significant demand for our services to Iraq from the UK and Europe and we strongly believe we have an opportunity to become the market leader in our operations there”.  Mr Boulter confirmed that the airline plans to add Najaf and Erbil to the network at the end of September and is looking at other Iraqi destinations. www.gulfair.com

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Qantas leases in A330s

QANTAS has quickly taken steps to deal with the problems associated by the delays with the Boeing 787 programme, arguably before lease prices on wide-bodied aircraft harden.  The Qantas Group has announced it will take four additional wide-body A330 aircraft, on six-year leases, to allow for its Jetstar low cost subsidiary to take on its planned growth in the international market.  Qantas Chief Executive Officer, Alan Joyce, said that the first A330-200 aircraft would be delivered in November 2010. “A key component of the Group’s growth strategy is its significant fleet renewal programme,” he noted.  “We currently have more than 160 aircraft on order over the next ten years, including 50 Boeing 787s for operation by both Jetstar and Qantas.  B787 programme delays mean we have had to consider medium term options to support new long haul market opportunities for Jetstar.”  Jetstar currently flies to points in South East Asia and to Hawaii. www.jetstar.com

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Thomson helps with medical assistance

THOMSON AIRWAYS, the British holiday airline, is removing all charges for supplementary therapeutic oxygen and relaxing its policy on customers bringing their own supplementary oxygen onboard its flights.  The airline says it has listened to feedback from customers and disability groups who felt that these charges were unfair on those that required supplementary oxygen treatment to travel by air.  Thomson customers requiring supplementary oxygen can now either pre-book the use of a nasal cannula therapeutic oxygen supply onboard all flights free of charge; bring their own oxygen supplies for use during the flight, subject to meeting certain conditions and gaining prior approval; or supply their own portable oxygen concentrators, provided it meets certain safety requirements. http://flights.thomson.co.uk

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ON TOUR: Malaga the gateway to the Costa del Sol

The Brits have been going through Malaga for the last 40 years since the introduction of the airborne package holiday.  Normally it is no more than a very quick passing visit on the way to the Costa del Sol or perhaps Marbella.  Cruise ships find it a regular stop, the call also very fleeting.  The main parts are walkable from the regular docking position.

Next time when flying in think about staying in Malaga for a couple of nights.  Or longer if you want to make it a base for forays into Andalusia one of the most interesting parts of Spain including Granada and the Alhambra Palace

As for Malaga there is abundance of hotels at all price ranges offering good value but nothing of five-star class.  It is very much a working town.  You can hire a car, take a tour bus, or, for the brave, use local transport.

If paella is to your taste, in Malaga you will be really satisfied with hundreds of small restaurants and bistro style cafes.  Eating outdoors is the norm even in what we would term “the winter”.  Fish and seafood is available in abundance.  Even the local bread is different but possibly an acquired taste.

Malaga Airport is about five miles west of the city with both taxis and public transport.  Generally costs are dramatically cheaper than Barcelona, although as docks they really don’t compete serving completely parts of Spain. 



Malaga is typical of Mediterranean ports in that at the beginning of recorded history it was part of the Roman Empire, lost its way towards the end of the first millennium and became Muslim for 700 years until 1492.  For the next 500 years it was often  fought over and finally in 1936 fell to Franco’s Nationalist troops.  The city today has a population of half a million and is a major industrial and commercial centre.  Agriculture is still important.

Malaga is typical of most tourist-minded Mediterranean cities in that it has a excellent open hop on hop off bus tour with 12 stops and a multi-lingual commentary through headphones.  You really do see the sights while hearing Malaga’s history – The tour takes around an hour and a half and the price is €15 for adults and €7 for children from 4-14 years.  The ticket also allows you to take another bus from the Main Bus Station and gain free entrance to the stunning Botanical Gardens Finca la Concepcion on the north side of the city.  They were originally created 150 years ago by an English lady. 

The most interesting parts of the city are contained in a relatively small area by the old port, all very easily walkable.  There is a fine tourist information unit just outside the dock gates and also a lovely strolling area named Paseo del Parque.  Here the gardens contain rare, exotic and tropical plants.  The whole area suffers for the present with a major waterfront development. 

For a tour, start at the Gibralfaro Castle the highest point of the town.  The hop on hop off tour bus or a taxi can drop you off. 

Everything is then downhill.  The early structure is Phoenician, but was the Moors who turned the whole area into a fortress.  Today it is a very pretty area affording fine views.  There is an interpretation centre.  In 1936 it was the last place of resistance in the Spanish Civil War.  It was the Royal Navy that rescued Europeans, Colonials and Americans at that time.   

Beneath the Gibralfaro is the Alcazaba Fortress, the home of the Arab Emirs.  The whole area was surrounded by walls during the Muslim times.  Today it is the site of an archaeological museum with stucco work and 12/13th century pottery.

Next down is the Roman Amphitheatre.  It is amazing to think that it lay undiscovered until 1951.  Now it also serves a duel purpose as a concert bowl and acting forum.  Nearby is the bullring, one of the largest in Spain.  Traditional events take place on a regular basis and there is also a museum.  Not to everyone’s taste.

Only one person of real stature has emerged from Malaga and even he is claimed by a number of municipalities.  Pablo Picasso, who took his mother’s maiden name after falling out with his father, was born in Malaga in 1881.  His talent was obvious from an early age and the family relocated to Barcelona when he was 14.  Subsequently he moved to Paris and later on in life settled in the South of France where he eventually died in 1973 leaving a confused heritage.  Picasso was probably the greatest painter of the 20th century, certainly as an impressionist.

The house of Picasso has restricted access but was the family home and has been recently restored.  Nearby is the Picasso Museum housed in a lovely 16th century building with themed exhibitions from time to time.  Over 200 works were donated by his daughter-in-law.  Other painters from the region are also on display including Julio González and Henri Matisse. 

Nearby is the Malaga Cathedral, built on the site of a mosque it is considered one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture and the interior includes a beautiful wooden choir stall from the early 17th century.

For those more interested in shopping and eating the Alemeda Principal is a wide thoroughfare dating from the late 18th century which borders the Mercado Central, a shopping area for locals.

www.malagainformation.com

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COMMENT: Price comparisons

The fact that British Airways has introduced a price comparison page on ba.com is opening up a whole discussion on how one should measure up the price of a flight.  BA flies from the major airports to the major airports and also offers extra benefits by way of cabin service and baggage allowances.  Some of its competitors operate to airports more than 60 miles from the highlighted destination.  BA passengers, at least at the UK end, don’t have to run the risk of getting wet on boarding nor climbing down the steps onto the apron, and up again to the actual plane.  There are probably 20 other items to think about and see how they compare.

How you put all this in journey terms is difficult to answer but a price comparison can just about be made using a scrap of paper or a simple spreadsheet.  At the end of the day ‘you pay your money and take your choice!’

Long haul Business Class passengers need to balance the flight charge with the on-board offering and the ground arrangements.  How much is the chauffeur service offered by some carriers worth and with it the lack of an (expensive) parking arrangement or airport transport?  How good is the welcome and lounge arrangements and how do you judge them in terms of value?  And what are the benefits of an airline's loyalty scheme?

Off course this evaluation can be made with any purchase.

AERBT always features in the last issue of every month Cruising (and Motoring in the second edition).  This week is such an edition.  Do take a look at the section.

We have been asked to make some sort of comparison as to the value of various cruises taking into consideration the discounts available and the quality of the various packages around.

We have found it virtually impossible.

Is there someone out there who can help? 

The standard way of comparing cruise ships is to take the Berlitz Guide and look at the figures produced for each ship.  AERBT has travelled on Crystal (1702 points), in Princess Grill class on the QM2 (1709 and 1546 Britannia Class), Silversea (1760), NCL Jewel Class (1520), Emerald Princess (1546), and MSC Poesia (1467) amongst others.  Brochure pricewise they follow in much the same order. www.berlitzcruising.com

Or do they?

With Crystal you have a big (50,000 tons) relatively empty ship (less than 1,000 passengers maximum).  You pay for alcohol but not soft drinks (+15%) and there is a service charge.  It’s much the same with Cunard except that for the most part you mix with standard class passengers with the mighty 150,000-ton ship capable of carrying up to 3,000 guests.  With Silversea service is gratis as is for the most part the bar and wines.  Regent is similar but now includes off ship tours. 

At the next level down you have to compare drink costs, tour charges and, typically, free ice cream (NCL), but only during a mid-afternoon hour with Princess, who do offer an afternoon tea served in a restaurant complete with a small ensemble. 

MSC makes only the bottled water variety available.  A corkage charge is levelled for what we would term the ‘tap’ product.  No port briefings either and the variety shows use taped music with the dancers miming to the songs.  Princess gives you courtesy fresh fruit in your cabin.  They don’t charge for cabin service.  Some do.

When using the ships’ tenders NCL takes a plentiful supply of water, orange juice and ice to the landing stage to offer returning passengers with the ship’s compliments.  None of its immediate competitors do likewise.   NCL has Freestyle dining (anytime) whilst Princess offers two fixed sittings and also a fully flexible arrangement.

Most cruise lines now offer alternative dining.  Crystal offers the superb Prego at only $10 each service charge, whilst with NCL’s top of the line Cagney's Steak House it is $25 and the wine does not come cheap.  Queen Mary has the Todd English restaurant at a $30 supplement.

Laundry and other charges vary from ship to ship.  How do you judge the spa facilities and the costs involved?

P & O adds a daily £3.75 per person for service and a 10% bar tip.  NCL is $12 and 15%.  One’s extras bill can quickly reach significant figures.

Is there some way that a true comparison can be made?  Could one add up all the costs of a similar 14-day cruise at the same time of year, bring in all the variables, and then factor in the Berltiz figure to come up with some sort of judgement?  There are a great deal more than on an aircraft.

Or is it still a question of you get what you pay for?

This is a holiday time question.  We would be delighted to publicise a serious answer to this conundrum.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief
malcolm.ginsberg@aerbt.co.uk

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American celebrates Admirals Club

AMERICAN AIRLINES is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its Admirals Club, the world’s first public executive lounge for regular travellers.  Back in 1939 American was not the Dallas-based operation that it is today.  Its home was LaGuardia on the New York waterfront.  Since the earliest days of flying there were always special lounges for VIP passengers but nothing for those who were prepared to pay for special facilities.  The Admirals Club paved the way for some of the exotic offerings that are now available around the world by virtually every long haul airline.  With a world wide network what American now offers varies from airport to airport but at the end of the day they provide an exclusive quiet facility where one can wait prior to a flight.  To celebrate the 70 years the airline is putting on a whole series of benefits for users and upgrading the lounges. www.aa.com/admiralsclub

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Greyhound buses take to British roads

GREYHOUND, familiar on the US roads, but actually owned by the British bus company FirstGroup, is to be seen on the roads of the UK.  The 95-year-old iconic American brand will be launched at Victoria Coach Station on 14 September, initially serving Portsmouth and Southampton.  Tickets will cost as little as £1, with the average journey around £7.  It plans to roll out more routes next year.  The hourly bus services will take just under two hours non-stop to both cities and will offer free Wi-Fi, power sockets for each passenger, air conditioning, complimentary newspapers and leather seats.  Each bus will be named after women from popular American songs including Peggy Sue, Billy Jean and Barbara Ann. www.greyhounduk.com

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IATA figures show some promise

IATA (International Air Transport Association) has published figures which indicate that the fall in the number of passengers flying Business and First Class is showing some signs of stabilising.  Total passenger numbers for member airlines in June were 7.1% lower than a year earlier, against a 9.2% fall in May.  Premium travel slowed to 21.3% in June from 23.6%, still a very serious drop.  Economy bookings were 5.5% less in June than a year earlier against a 7.6% the previous month.  Since March the numbers travelling Economy Class had shown signs of reaching a floor, but until June that seemed largely due to business travellers switching to cheaper seats rather than any underlying stabilisation of demand, it said.  IATA noted that revenues from premium travel were declining at a rate close to 40%.  Front end passengers typically make up 7-10% of numbers but 25-30% of revenues. www.iata.org

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Manchester Airport falls out with Ryanair

RYANAIR, in one of its petulant moods, is to cancel nine out of ten of its routes out of Manchester Airport following a disagreement over fees and will transfer some of them to alternative airports on 1 October.  With its usual exaggeration the airline says that 600 local jobs will be lost.  A Manchester Airport spokesperson said: “Not withstanding all of our investment in Manchester Airport including during the current recession, we don’t believe that charges as low as £3 per passenger are unreasonable.  Clearly, Ryanair do and that’s regrettable.  We’ve consistently cut our charges for the last 15 years even when faced with increased costs such as security.  Passengers will still be able to travel directly to the majority of the destinations affected by choosing other airlines.”  The airport recently completed a £50m overhaul of Terminal 1 creating one of the UK’s largest airside shopping and catering facilities and a completely redesigned flow within the terminal, designed to make the passenger’s journey easier.  The scheme was designed following the completion of an in-depth study into passengers’ state of mind as they travelled through the Airport. www.ryanair.com www.manchesterairport.co.uk

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Southwest could go international

SOUTHWEST (SWA), the carrier credited with starting the low cost/budget airline business in 1971, and is the largest airline in the world by number of passengers carried, could be venturing into international routes by 2011.  In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, CEO Gary Kelly, successor to SWA’s legendary long time leader Herb Kelleher, said there are plenty of markets to which the airline can expand (it currently serves 67).  "If you're just talking about the domestic US, I think there are a dozen [potential expansion cities]," he said.  "If you add international markets, there are dozens.  The 737 can do Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean.  We're seriously considering that.  2011 [would be] the earliest that we'd be flying international metal."  Most places would be within two hours flying time of SWA hubs.  SWA currently has a fleet of around 550 Boeing 737. www.southwest.com

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Tokyo helicopter link

ANA is set to introduce on 16 September a complimentary helicopter transport from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to central Tokyo for First Class passengers from the major US and European cities.  On arrival at NRT, the premium passengers will be taken by limousine to the nearby Narita (Sakura) Heliport.  From there it is a 15-minute helicopter flight to Ark Hills Heliport in the centrally located Akasaka district which hosts many multi-national companies, embassies, major hotels and retail centres.  The service will be operated with Eurocopter EC135s seating 4-5 passengers.  Narita is nearly 40 miles from downtown Tokyo with a heavily congested highway connection or a semi-direct suburban train.  In 2010 a high speed train is expected to reduce the travel time to 36 minutes. www.ana.co.jp/wws/uk/e

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CRUISE NEWS AUGUST 2009

Plus a review of NCL Jade

SAGA is to replace Saga Rose with the former 446-passenger Astoria for the summer season 2010 and rename it Saga Pearl II.   During the winter the ship will undergo a £14m refit in Europe.  The extensive refurbishment is expected to include the addition of new balcony cabins; upgrades to the show lounge, spa and two swimming pools; and the creation of a library and a new Veranda Restaurant. www.saga.co.uk

ALASKA is suffering in terms of cruising due to the poor economic conditions according to reports coming out of Anchorage.  The numbers, a little over one million, are likely to stay around last year’s due to severe discounting and it is expected that the number of ships in the area for the 2010 summer season will be  reduced.  While that may well stop the price cutting it will reduce numbers by as much as 140,000 and tourism economy.  Over 60% of Alaska visitors come by ship. www.tourist-office.org/united-states/tourist-office-alaska.htm

MSC FANTASIA has received certification from the Associazione Italiana Celiachia (AIC) to serve gluten-free products.  On board the ship all coeliac passengers can follow a proper diet in all the ship’s restaurants: 17 special menus are available, from breakfast through lunch to dinner.  The Bar Fantasia also has a special ‘gluten free’ list.  The same Memorandum of Understanding signed by MSC Fantasia is already valid for three other of the company’s ships: MSC Orchestra, MSC Poesia and MSC Musica.  In September, training courses on celiac disorders will be launched on board the new flagship MSC Splendida. www.msccruises.co.uk

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE (NCL) has stepped up the marketing for its new superliner called Epic with a very clever virtual tour.  Now being fitted out the ship will go into service next summer operating seven-day cruises into the Caribbean out of Miami.  The 150,000-ton ship, about the same size as Queen Mary 2, will carry a maximum of 4,200 passengers, looked after by 1,620 crew.  For those who prefer the written word rather than cyberspace AERBT will offer a detailed review in the coming months. www.ncl.com

CRYSTAL SYMPHONY is to undertake a major makeover much in line with the successful refreshment of its slightly larger sister ship Crystal Serenity last year.  In order to fit into the ship’s programme the work this time will be carried out in Boston towards the end of September.  Costing upwards of $25m work on the 922-guest, 50,000-ton ultra-luxury ship will included redesigned penthouses suites, pool areas, Prego Italian restaurant, Lido Cafe as well as new guest elevators and numerous behind-the-scenes upgrades. www.crystalcruises.com


AT SEA ON NCL’S LATEST - JADE

This issue is somewhat biased towards cruising and summer holidays.  The current edition, and the previous one, were more or less produced at sea using the internet during what was supposed to be a break from the rigours of bringing you, dear reader, the up to date business travel news.

The internet is the most wonderful of modern inventions.  You either live with it. Or abandon it for two weeks! 

At sea it can be slow and expensive, an alternative the popular and cheap cyber cafes found at most ports.  That is except Barcelona where the cruise terminal costs are worthy of a five-star luxury hotel and not nearly as comfortable.  Sadly Barcelona is getting a reputation as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in Europe.


Freestyle with NCL

August is a quiet month in the world of business travel.  Why not try a cruise out of Southampton, have something of a rest and at the same time offer one’s services as a port lecturer, the other half suggested?  Go Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL)  ‘Freestyle’ advertised with up to 14 styles of dining.

This year NCL scheduled a whole series to the Mediterranean on its newest ship, the 90,000-ton, 2,900-passenger Jade.  At 25 knots and the latest in stabilisation the Bay of Biscay should not prove a problem.  And such was the case. 

NCL introduced ‘Freestyle’ back in 2001 and after some initial teething trouble has refined the product.  What it means is that you can dine at a time and place to suit you, within limits.  The quality of food throughout the ship was excellent.  You can book the same table and same waiter in one of the two large restaurants, or dine at a time to your convenience.  There are two buffet style cafes and a 24-hour snack bar. 

Further alternative dining is paid for by way of a cover charge.  Cagney’s Steak House provides New York cuisine at a price (the bill for dinner, drinks and a fine wine can come to $100 for two).  There is the very popular Teppanyaki bar and adjoining Asian food area (cover $20 each), the Tex Mex hideaway ($10), a French bistro ($15) and an Italian eatery ($10).

‘Freestyle’ has now been extended to the final leaving of the ships.  Choose your time and whether you want NCL to deal with your cases, or struggle yourself.  It’s a nice little touch.

Jade was built as the US-registered Pride of Hawaii for the mid-Pacific market.  Let’s say that a combination of Union intransience, labour laws and the economic downturn meant that it has been transferred to Europe with a new title, a large casino, and one of the biggest emporiums afloat, even larger than the QM2.  Some of the native artwork looks a bit out of place but in time no doubt it will be replaced and the past heritage forgotten.  Hawaii has never caught on with Europeans which by all accounts is a pity.  It is not as far as Australia.


Outbound from Southampton

We took on a typical ex-Southampton 14-night summer cruise visiting Malaga, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Livorno (for Florence), Cannes, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Lisbon and Vigo.  Eight port days and five at sea.  For many a perfect balance.  For us it included five lectures – including London and the Olympics on the way home across the Bay of Biscay. 

Number one fear for the whole trip was the thought of up to 900 children roaming around and making life for the more mature types difficult.  As it turned out they all seemed well behaved with one of the larger than average shipboard pools banned for those under 18 and another pool for everyone.  Yes deck space was a bit limited at times around the pools
but the ship has more than sufficient space for everyone to find a spot to suit.  Deck loungers never ran out in two weeks of nothing but sunshine.

Let’s face it, the majority of passengers on this particular cruise are families, although there were plenty of couples of all ages, singles and those with mobility problems.  The children’s programme caters for all from 2 to 17 in various groups.  The under 12s need to be collected by their parents for meals and late night group babysitting is chargeable.  The little ones have their own pool whilst one of the most popular items on board is a water slide.  There is a small cinema for children and of course video games.

The standard balcony cabins are well equipped with plenty of storage space and nice touches including slippers and robes, a hair dryer, and kettle to make tea or coffee.  There is a 24-hour courtesy cabin dining menu, slightly limited but enough to keep the hunger at bay.  A fridge is well stocked but you have to pay for anything you use.  If you are on a tight budget the inside cabins are tiny but with the same excellent shower/washroom and Elemis soap and shampoo dispenser as elsewhere and you will sleep well without first light to disturb you.  Try and keep away from the forward balcony cabins on deck eight which are restricted (see photo).


Two-Class Ships


Jade and her sister ships are all two-class ships although normal passengers for the most part would not know it, unlike the QM2, which has the Queen’s Grill and Princess Grill upmarket restaurants with certain lounge and balcony areas off limits unless in a suite.  With Jade, part of the top two decks are given over to what is known as the ‘Courtyard Area’, a series of sumptuous cabins and a private patio complex complete with dip pool and sliding roof.  Breakfast can be taken in your room or Cagney’s.  Access is via a private lift and various privileges are available.  You can live your whole trip in this opulent area, or descend from time to time to join in the ship’s activities, and in some cases link with the children and grandchildren.

Jade does have a fine library but as to its contents we are not sure.  For whatever reason it is not computerised.  You have to sign the books out by hand, and the actual works themselves are displayed by author alphabetically.  This is OK if what you want was written by Shakespeare but supposing your need is a historical novel.  Where do you start.  No data base.  The very limited reference books are not allowed out, which is fair enough, and there is a small selection in five languages.  Braille guests are catered for as well as children.

The major stage shows are terrific, put on in a beautiful 850-seat theatre with fine sight lines.  A six-piece live band supplies the music for the up beat performance worthy of the West End.  There is also a series of speciality acts straight out of variety.  What NCL offers makes some of its competitors look staid. 

Naturally there is a large and well equipped gym available 24 hours and also an open air sports court with spectator seating.  You can practice your golf driving too.  From seven in the morning until well past midnight there is always some kind of organised activity.  Bingo and game shows may not be to everyone’s taste but there is no need to get involved.  At least there are not promotional announcements every few minutes in a variety of languages.  It is very much an English speaking vessel.

The ship is very well laid out and never feels that large.  The promenade deck is nearly one third of a mile round, flat, and with room on the starboard side for a very large chess set and various deck games.  The crew are friendly, ever helpful, and there was a welcoming glass of Champagne upon embarkation but no Captain’s reception.   Using the ship’s tenders at Cannes was a doddle, orange juice and water provided prior to the return.

Would we recommend?

AERBT would have no difficulties in recommending Jade with one reservation.  For 2010 the ship will be based at Barcelona which means a flight down on the morning of departure and likewise on the way back.  This can be energy sapping if you have children, and even if you have not.  It also means that one’s luggage is restricted.  Now this is not altogether a bad thing.  Cruising in the summer months should be informal and probably like most of his fellow passengers your Editor (and his wife) took far too much in the way of clothing.

An alternative Baltic programme is provided out of Dover on sister ship NCL Jewel.

Have we any complaints?  Yes.  Too many photographers and the Miami-based company really does have to think out its pricing policy for off ship tours.  Whilst participants are guaranteed a return to the ship, rumours were that four ladies were left behind at Civitavecchia, the costs are far too high and even a last minute discounted three-trip package did not induce the rush expected.  The British in particular are experienced travellers these days and a 45-minute E12 train ride to Rome will save a family many hundreds of pounds for a day out. 

Also on the negative side the competitive nature of the cruise business means that large discounts are available for the less popular shoulder periods.  Drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are no longer cheap and British clients will find that the service charge is now $12 per day.  With the Pound Sterling at around one-fifty as against two to the Dollar a year ago, the cost has effectively gone up by 50% in a little over 12 months.  Add $336 to the cost for a couple.

As to the lecturing.  Great fun and an interesting way to meet fellow passengers.  But it has it downsides too. 

Malcolm Ginsberg

www.ncl.com

www.berlitzcruising.com

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Air France drops Czech interest

AIR FRANCE KLM (AF) has withdrawn its interest in purchasing Czech Airlines (CSA) from the Czech Ministry of Finance noting that current economic environment has significantly impacted upon the airline business.  However AF says it wishes to further strengthen the existing partnership between the two groups and to continue to explore with CSA any new areas of cooperation that could be of mutual benefit to each company.  Unimex and Travel Service, a consortium of Czech companies, remains in the tender, but the lack of a competing bid will affect the price.  In April a bid from a Russian consortium including Aeroflot was turned down.  Passenger numbers have fallen by around 10% so far this year and first quarter losses widened to US$51m from US$44m the year before. www.csa.cz

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BA compares fares

BRITISH AIRWAYS has launched its fares comparison guide which really does show up some of the additional costs that competing airlines charge.  BA claims passengers pay no extra for a variety of items that can be very expensive with the so-called low price carriers.  Richard Tams, Head of UK & Ireland Sales at British Airways, said: "With BA, the price you see is the price you pay.”  You can book your seat 24 hours ahead.  And then move it if needs be.  Credit cards are not charged for, or airport check-in or bags up to 23kg and carry-on items are up to the full size approved by the Department for Transport.  Food and snacks are with the compliments of the airline, although what is on offer does depend on the time of day and length of flight.  Unfortunately the BA web site is laid out in such a way that you need to be an internet detective to find that the guide it is part of “flights and holidays” on www.ba.com

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Hertz has your image

HERTZ, the world’s largest car hire company, is experimenting with digital images of vehicles as they leave the organisation’s premises.  Normally customers walk around the vehicle with a company representative on handover.  This can lead to arguments upon the return.  The high resolution system will benefit both the company and its clients.  For the last month the kit is being used at a secret location in the United States.  If it pArticle listingroves successful, it will be rolled out, eventually around the world. www.hertz.com

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Iceland increase

ICELAND EXPRESS, following the successful launch of the Gatwick to Reykjavik route, is to fly on a weekly basis between Birmingham and the Iceland capital next summer.  It will be the first time that Birmingham has been linked to Iceland.  Iceland Express is the country’s first low fare airline and connects the nation’s capital with 17 airports in Europe including Alicante, Barcelona, Basel, Berlin, Billund, Copenhagen, London, Eindhoven, Frankfurt Hahn, Friedrichshafen, Gothenburg, Paris and Warsaw.  The airline, which launched in 2003, operates a daily service between Gatwick and Reykjavík and has up to ten flights per week. www.icelandexpress.com

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Monarch increases

MONARCH, now seen more as a low fare carrier than a charter airline, has launched the summer 2010 scheduled programme from all four of its UK bases – Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester, which includes new services to the Canary islands of Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura and increased frequencies to Gibraltar, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Larnaca and Tenerife.  The introduction of new services to Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria brings the total number of routes operated by Monarch for summer 2010 to 49.  Monarch has a fleet of 31 Airbus and Boeing aircraft including four of the now venerable Airbus A300.  The airline has six Boeing 787 on order. www.monarch.co.uk

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Spanish figures down

SPAIN is suffering from a decline in foreign tourists with the numbers for July down 6.1% less than the 10% for June, according to figures released by the Trade, Industry and Tourism Ministry.  The Ministry said 6.6m visitors arrived in July, usually the second most popular month of the year.  In the seven months to July Spain hosted 30.2m down 10.3% from a year ago, with British tourist arrivals dropping 16.2% and those from Germany 10%. www.mityc.es

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Travel Guild survey

 

UK BUSINESS TRAVELLERS are progressively changing their travel behaviour, as the recession continues to bite.  That is the findings of the Guild of Travel Management Companies Quarterly Transactional Survey.  The analysis reveals that traditional business travel modes of transport and accommodation, such as aviation, car hire and overnight hotel stays, are now in steep and steady decline.  The downward trend in business related air travel has been falling since the third quarter of 2008, but latest statistics from the Guild reveal the trend is now hitting every segment of the aviation sector as low cost carriers show distinct signs of suffering as much as their mainstream scheduled rivals.  Overall aviation travel is 11% down on the corresponding figures for 2008.  However rail travel is up by a healthy 13% year on year and 7% up on the corresponding period in 2008.  The rail figures show that business travellers are increasingly changing their booking and travel patterns and are incorporating train travel into the travel itineraries, possibly at the expense of hotels, airlines and car hire.  Car hire, which has been in an almost constant downward spin since the third quarter or 2008, added a further 17% decline in the returns for the second quarter 2009 marking an annual decrease of car hire business bookings of 13%.  The hotel sector, which has largely held steady over the past year, performed particularly poorly in the quarter – down 13% against the corresponding quarter of 2008.  The decline in hotel bookings was the single largest drop for the sector in over two years and highlights business travellers becoming ever more cost conscious. www.gtmc.org

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HAPPY TALK: The Bridge

This story is true, actually happened last week, and fits in nicely with this month’s cruising edition.  The names (and the ship) have been deleted to protect the innocent. 

Barcelona is probably Europe’s largest cruise port.

On a gorgeous August dawn the mighty liner docked in her regular place up by the towering bridge, the only roadway to the ship terminals. 

After supervising mooring the captain retired to his cabin, put on his pyjamas, and called it quits.

At 09:00 his emergency alarm went off and (controlled) panic ensues.

“There’s been an accident on the bridge,” said the switchboard operator.

Out rushes this most senior of officers just as he is (fortunately in his nightwear).

“What’s the problem?”

“No problem.”

“It appears that there has been a road traffic disagreement on the right of way at the very top of the opening structure. 

A (ROAD) ACCIDENT ON THE BRIDGE.

It took 45 minutes to sort things out with the cars and coaches by which time the Captain had returned to his private quarters and a somewhat embarrassed switchboard operator was thanking the Hotel Director for the copy of the Oxford Dictionary.

All more or less true except for the dictionary bit. The ship in question had one in the library.

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