20 APRIL 2009


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Article from BTNews 20 APRIL 2009

CRUISING - An introduction

Your editor in chief Malcolm Ginsberg claims to have been cruising since the age of eight when his parents took him (and his little brother) on a trip from Southampton to Sydney, six weeks via the RMS Asturias.  They were on the UKP10 package scheme in the harsh post-war years to attract immigrants to Australia .  The Ginsberg’s did not last long ‘down under’, returning the following year on Orion (also a Royal Mail Ship), considered the first modern long-haul passenger liner.  Since those far distant days Malcolm has travelled on over 30 cruise ships, all over the world. 

In this new  series Malcolm will review from time to time a whole series
of vessels ranging from the extremely well kitted out river cruisers to the top luxury liners.  However, first of all, an introduction, followed by a cruise news update.

Cruising is a Complex Business

In the United Kingdom 1.4m individual cruise packages were sold in 2008.  When you think that these actually average out at UKP1,150 each you will realise that cruising is immensely popular and generates vast sums.  Even this year the numbers will rise.

We’ve all been to a dinner party, sat down with friends and chatted about future (and past) holidays.  Inevitably the subject of cruising comes up.  The question raised is “I would like to go cruising, what would you recommend Malcolm?”

In fact there are more permutations than on a Ford. Tick off the boxes.

And there is one thing about cruising that is not even thought about in terms of questions.  It is probably the best way to make friends for life.  From all over the world.

•    How much do you want to spend?

•    Deep sea or river cruising?  Some of the boats on the Rhine and Danube are enormous, even with swimming pools.

•    Are you happy to fly to your start/finish port or would you prefer a Dover, Southampton or Harwich rendezvous? Or maybe fly one way?  The warmer weather is usually two days from these shores.

•    The ship choice is large.  Big liners, 2,500+ passengers, medium size vessels 1,250 upwards, or something in the boutique class, which can mean from 50 other guests, to 600. Whatever size of ship you choose boarding and departure is usually no problem (and really show up the airports).  Modern ships are generally very well thought out and designed.

•    Do you want to dine at a fixed time with the same company and waiting staff each meal time, or to suit you?  Some ships offer both.

•    You can cruise across the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, North and South America, the Far East, Antipodes and the Pacific.  New areas are being discovered for sea holidays all the time.  And of course world cruises (and parts of) are proving more and more popular.

•    Do you want a cruise that takes in a new port every day, or one that has a day at sea and a day in port. Or more time at sea?

•    Is your requirement to make it a holiday with children, or completely without?  The cruise markets provides for both.

•    Are you really into the budget cruise business, or do you want six-star luxury?  The requirements of both are very well catered for, as are all categories in-between.

•    Inside or outside cabin?  A balcony can easily double the cost of the trip.

•    Specialised cruises.  As part of their marketing efforts many companies offer unique cruise packages including cooking, wine tasting, music, the American theatre, jazz, and sporting interests.  You can learn all about computers, how to play the electric keyboard and indulge in card games.  One company often has a golf professional on board who will plan ahead to visit major courses at each port of call.  Edinburgh is not that far from St Andrews.

Don’t worry if you have a disability.  The cruise companies were amongst the first members of the holiday trade to realise there was a big market for people with limited, or no, walking ability.  The same goes for those who have specialised eating requirements.  Within reason the chefs really want to help and the latest ships have some spectacular kitchens.  And don’t worry about being ill at sea.  You must be covered by adequate insurance but the medical facilities on board are exceptional, better than in many UK regional hospitals in terms of equipment provided and that is not demeaning the value of the UK’s National Health Service.  Virtually every ship, of any size, has at least one full time doctor on board and helicopter evacuation is not unknown in emergency cases.  The big ships are organised for it.

There are currently about 272 cruise ships operating with nine new ones due in 2010.  QE2 was pensioned off last year to be replaced by a new Queen Elizabeth (QE3?) next year. 

In a survey carried out for the Passenger Shipping Association the question was put “which is of greater importance to you, the quality of the facilities or the choice of destination?”  The ship and its facilities topped the poll easily beating destinations!

Finally a word of warning.  The current economic downturn, coupled to the ever increasing cruise capacity, has meant some significant discounting, particularly with the bigger cruise operators.  This in turn has broadened the market with some large ships attracting a more rowdy crowd than hitherto.

For a guide to cruise ships there is nothing better than the Berlitz “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” by Douglas Ward, now in its 24th edition.  www.berlitzcruising.com



CELEBRITY has added a pre-inaugural cruise prior to Equinox maiden voyage from Southampton to Civitavecchia on 8 August.  Friday 31 July sees the ship, the second in the Solstice class, featuring the Norwegian fjords on an eight-day trip visiting Stavanger, Flam, Geiranger, and the delightful city of Oslo.  Introducing what may become an interesting trend in ship design Equinox features Aqua Class, top quality balcony staterooms on the main resort deck, and but a short walk to the Spa complex. www.celebritycruises.com www.celebritycruises.com

CRYSTAL has always been noted for the quality of its cuisine.  The American run but Japanese owned cruise line has now gone somewhat further.  Take two Michelin Star chefs, one Bocuse d’Or winner and one French Laundry sous chef.  Add a Nobu executive chef.  Stir in two James Beard Award-winning wine experts, a couple of Masters of Wine and blend well with leading mixologists.  These are the key ingredients for Crystal Cruises 13th annual Wine & Food Experiences of Discovery, served onboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity.  Seven culinary themed itineraries between May and December 2009 host a fabulous selection of the world’s leading chefs, wine experts and mixologists to showcase their creativity and craftsmanship in cooking demonstrations, hands-on classes, tasting sessions and specially designed menus. www.crystalcruises.com

CUNARD says that the new Queen Elizabeth's maiden voyage sold out in 29 minutes 14 seconds.  The ship even outdid its distinguished predecessor, QE2, whose final trip was available for booking for just 36 minutes in June 2007.  The ship, part of Carnival, is due to set sail from Southampton on 12 October 2010 for a 13-day voyage to the Canary Islands. There is virtually no capacity left for the balance of next year.  The 2010 / 2011 brochure has just been released.www.cunard.co.uk

P & O might just have the package for you.  If you are in to cooking and thinking of perhaps a busman’s holiday Hell’s Kitchen star Marco Pierre White is a guest on a number of Ventura trips this summer and will be offering the chance for passengers to participate in private cookery sessions to groups of up to eight adults.  The interactive sessions will involve participants joining Marco as he creates a three-course feast.  Passengers will pay UKP75 for the sessions.  If it’s just the food you want Marco has his first restaurant at sea on board Ventura. The White Room provides passengers with panoramic views and the option of dining under the stars in the evening.  The cost is UKP20 per passenger, very inexpensive by gourmet meal standards. www.pocruises.co.uk

STAR CLIPPERS, which operates three of the world’s tallest and most beautiful sailing ships, is offering free European flights for UK-based passengers to join selected sailings for summer 2009 Mediterranean cruises on board the 360’, four-masted Star Clipper and the 400’ five-masted Royal Clipper.  Summer 2009 voyages on board these fully crewed, beautifully appointed ships include itineraries around the Greek islands, Croatia and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and from Rome (Civitavecchia) to a variety of islands and mainland destinations in the Western Mediterranean. www.starclippers.com


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