30 JANUARY 2012

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Article from BTNews 30 JANUARY 2012

CRUISE NEWS JANUARY 2012

This month’s ship review: Celebrity Constellation
Cruise news update

Speaking in London, has called on the International Maritime Organization to undertake what she termed: “a comprehensive evaluation from the findings of the Costa Concordia investigation.”  In fact she was acting not only on behalf of her own organisation but also the European Cruise Council and Britain’s Passenger Shipping Association who endorsed her views.

Christine Duffy emphasised the importance of the evaluation to ensure that: “the cruise industry remains one of the safest recreational industries globally.”

She added: “the cruise industry is heavily regulated in compliance with the strict standards of the International Maritime Organization, the UN agency that mandates global standards.”

CRUISE SHOW: It may seem quite distant but the well established annual Daily Telegraph (London) Cruise Show is only eight weeks away (24-25 March 2012).  What is very clear is that the Costa Concordia disaster will still be on everyone’s mind and the very useful lecture series will no doubt include one on safety and the improvements already in place and scheduled.  Whether Olympia will attract record crowds (it has for the last four years) is anyone’s guess but exhibitor participation is up on last year and the show grows and becomes more imaginative.  Book the dates in your diary.  Parking is easy particularly Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.  More details next month but readers can go to the website and use the code JN to get a 50% ticket discount. www.cruisingshow.com

CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION

Our ship reviews generally follow a predictable pattern but in inviting past President of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, Ken Brookes, to contribute a piece what we did not foresee was a sudden change in itinerary.  Here is his report.

ITINERARY CHANGE

Of all the major continental cruise ports Barcelona is probably the easiest to get to from the UK with new services coming on-line all the time (See AERBT 16 January).  An autumn crossing of the Atlantic combining European ports, plus restful sea days proved a fine idea notwithstanding a change of itinerary.

Just a few days into the voyage, a proposed call at Funchal (Madeira) was cancelled because of a general strike in Portugal and substituted by a visit to Gibraltar on the previous day.

The wide open spaces of the imposing Constellation bridge are large enough to house an orchestra and hold a dance.  In conversation there, Captain Athanasios Peppas explained that, although his schedule rearrangement was half-expected, the diversion to Gibraltar was confirmed with less than 24 hours’ notice.  In his department there were obvious navigational changes, but elsewhere there were shore tours to arrange in Gib and cancel in Funchal, and a host of consequential operational alterations, including a revision of the daily programmes and printing.  If you had not known anything different you would never have noticed.

Unusually, in addition to his conventional appearances at parties, crew introductions and photo sessions, not to mention fluent mid-day broadcasts laced with anecdotes, Captain Peppas submitted himself to – and clearly enjoyed – a lengthy, no-holds-barred, public question-and-answer session in the crowded Celebrity theatre, where all the queries came from the audience.

Basics

With the special factors out of the way, let’s look at a few statistics.

Built in St Nazaire (France), and registered in Malta, the Celebrity Constellation is a medium-size (by today’s standards) cruise ship designed for up to 2,449 passengers in 1,019 staterooms and suites.  More than half have balconies.  Its crew complement is 941 from more than 50 nations, giving a roughly two-to-one passenger-to-crew ratio on an average voyage.

With length and beam nominally just a few inches or centimetres below the 965ft (294.1m) and 107ft (32.6m) limits to length and lock-level beam, the ship will just pass through the locks on the Panama Canal and is therefore “Panamax.”  Way above lock height, not only the bridge but also the buffet restaurant protrude on either side. In fact, if you are sitting at a window table, you are likely to find a horizontal glass “porthole” at your feet, through which in open seas you can see the waves about 30 metres below.


Propulsion

Though only 10 years old, in cruise-ship terms the 4-star Constellation would by now be regarded as a senior citizen.  But it received a US$40m refit in May 2010, at which time its décor was restyled and its public rooms remodelled to match or better that of the later and larger Solstice-class ships in the fleet.  Also now installed was a substantial diesel engine, giving the benefit of lower-cost fuel for at least some power requirements.  In normal cruising, the Constellation now runs on one gas turbine plus the diesel and waste-heat steam generator.  But the versatility comes with a price; the need for two kinds of fuel and twice the possibility of refuelling delays.

Close to the gangways, and occupying a small area, is what could easily be mistaken for an elaborate piece of artwork, in the shape of a dummy jet engine.  It is, in fact, no dummy but a valuable spare LM2500 power plant that could provide much of the energy needs of the great ship that surrounds it.  As far as I know, it has never been needed for that purpose.

Décor

The staterooms were originally decorated in yellow and turquoise, but the colours are now a restful combination of (mainly) beiges and browns.  Apart from suites, the comfortable cabins are virtually all the same size, though a little smaller than on the latest cruising behemoths.  Nonetheless, they have relatively spacious bathrooms, including a shower almost large enough for two to enjoy.

Around the ship, not only on stair landings and in public rooms, but also in restaurant alcoves, hiding behind elevators and everywhere in-between, is an eclectic and occasionally exciting collection of original artwork; paintings, drawings and a variety of sculptures.  Many are accompanied by artists’ credits on small brass plaques, but a surprising number seem to lack these modest tributes.  Even more surprisingly, after a supposedly diligent search, no staff member managed to turn up an inventory or listing of the ship’s art.  Apparently I was the first ever to make such a request.

Dining

The two-level, two-sitting, San Marco main restaurant seats well over 1,000 diners, those with fixed times on the lower deck and others with more freedom (but no assigned table) upstairs.  The four-course menus are typical for this class of ship, with complete changes for every day of the cruise, apart from ever-present optional staples, like grilled chicken breast and steak.  There’s also a good choice of vegetarian dishes.

In addition to the two main restaurants, there are a pair of surcharged dining venues, Ocean Liners, French cuisine based on the old Normandie transatlantic liner, and the Tuscan Grille steakhouse with wine.  Good as were the steaks in the main restaurant, we found those served in the Tuscan a cut above, and the cosy ambience ideal for a special occasion.  It apparently replaced a flower shop, but would have been a very out of the way location for the latter.  The other stores, a concession like the spa and photo complex, are located together on one of the two decks where public rooms are concentrated.  There are numerous other casual eateries dotted around the ship, including a poolside barbecue, coffeeshop and gelateria, each offering items not found on the inclusive menus.

Everyone knows about the vast quantities of food and drink that fill cruise ships’ stores, but few give much thought to how the stores get there.  For example, we never seem to see trucks and delivery vans waiting patiently in line on the quayside.  In yet another interview, British-born Hotel Director Jamie Petts solved the problem for AERBT readers.  So important is it to Celebrity that all ships in the line meet identical high standards that virtually all food, excepting the quickly perishable, is purchased, packed and assembled at its Miami headquarters, then shipped in specialised containers to base ports around the world.

For similar reasons, a photograph of every menu dish, accompanied by its recipe, is placed on an outsize noticeboard in the galley.  This ensures that the same dish, when served on any ship, will as closely as possible look and taste the same.  Observant diners will notice that the food preparation areas of the San Marco restaurant are located on neither level but on the deck below, with fast-moving escalators providing links for hardworking waiters and their assistants.

Celebrity takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously.  Roughly 50% of all water used on board (mainly for flushing toilets, never for washing, drinking or food preparation) is purified and recycled.  Only clean treated water is eventually discharged into the sea.  And any similar discharge of food waste, with the permission of the Environmental Officer, must be at least 25 miles (40km) from the nearest land.

Entertainment

Apart from food, the one thing that really matters on a transatlantic voyage, without even a glimpse of land for a week, is the standard of recreation and entertainment.

In this the customers were not disappointed, thanks in large part to the talented Cruise Director Sue Denning.  She started her career as a teenage singer at the Abbey Road studios made famous by the Beatles.  Her “official” biography says she was born and raised in Birmingham, but her Lancashire accent, reminiscent of Gracie Fields, gave away the fact that she, too, was raised in Rochdale.  Her cruise organising experience includes stints with Fred Olsen, Thomson and Azamara as well as Celebrity.

Like eating and drinking locations, musical venues are dotted around the ship, hosting many individual and collective talents.  At their best, the resident company in the Celebrity Theatre is well up to West End or Broadway standards.  Special mention must, however, go to Danish-British club entertainer Perry Grant whose enthusiastic, mainly middle-aged fans would rush every evening from dinner to the limited seating accommodation, from which they’d refuse to budge until after-midnight closing time.

Stage and musical presentations are complemented by sports (in and out of the pool) and games, bingo and quizzes, instruction and informative lectures, the last-named from particularly well-chosen speakers.

PROGRAMME:  Constellation will for the rest of the northern winter spend its time on 7/14 night cruises from Miami into the Caribbean before a 15-night transatlantic crossing to Amsterdam on 5 May via the Azores, Lisbon and Dover.  Her summer programme includes Scandinavia, Russia and the Mediterranean.  On 30 November, at the end of the season, it is Rome to Miami. www.celebritycruises.co.uk


Cruise news update

CRYSTAL, in terms of its number of ships, is one of the smallest operators (just two super luxury liners), but always innovative a first-of-its kind check-in process that will ease embarkation procedures for all guests. 

“Crystal Fast-Track Check-In” eliminates 100% of ship check-in procedures in port terminal waiting areas by utilising the barcode on the cruise ticket.  As is customary porters load guests’ luggage onto the ship and guests observe required local security procedures.  However, instead of processing documentation in the terminal, guests are whisked through and ushered onboard to complete registration and receive their room keys/boarding cards with photo identification. www.crystalcruises.co.uk

DISNEY FANTASY, the fourth ship in the series, is well on its way.  It should have by now completed its North Sea testing and be back in dock preparing for a transatlantic crossing to her home port of Canaveral, Florida.  The 4,000-passenger ship will make her maiden voyage 31 March, joining Disney Dream, on alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean seven-night voyages. www.disneycruise.disney.go.com

MSC will operate from Cork next year, the first time that a major cruise line has based a ship out of the Emerald Isle for a series of cruises.  The 59,000-ton Lirica will offer four new itineraries in August and September.  A call at Dublin will feature in all the programmes. The itineraries vary from three to 12 nights. www.msccruises.co.uk

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINES plans to base the brand new 144,000-ton, 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway at New York when she is delivered from the German Meyer Werft yard in May 2012.  She will be the largest ship ever to use New York as her home port.  Following a summer inaugural season sailing seven-night cruises from New York to Bermuda, Norwegian Breakaway will embark on a series of 25 seven-night trips to the Bahamas and Florida beginning on 13 October 2013.  The ship will also sail two 12-night Southern Caribbean itineraries on 5 and 19 January 2014.  Inclusive New York packages will be available too. www.ncl.co.uk/project-breakaway

OCEANIA is the latest operator to bring out its 2013 programme, in fact starting September of this year with what it calls “The Winter Collection” with new Grand Voyages, ranging from 23 to 71 days, and Caribbean and Panama Canal cruises onboard the line’s new 1,250-guest, luxury ship Riviera.  With the success of a maiden season’s sailing the South Seas Marina will replace the smaller Regatta on cruises to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.  The 20-day Ancient Legends (departing 27 December 2012) journey to Polynesia via South America will visit such exotic outposts as Robinson Crusoe, Easter and Pitcairn islands and Fakarava in French Polynesia.  AERBT plans to report on Insignia in a forthcoming cruise issue. www.oceaniacruises.co.uk

STAR FLYER will be turning the heads as she makes her way down the Solent next May.  The four-masted, full-rigged clipper is making a rare UK appearance twice in 2012, the first time one of the Star Clippers has been in British waters since her launch in 1992.  Two days at sea to enjoy life under sail, followed by a full day in Amsterdam.  The five-night cruise holiday, departing on 5 May 2012, costs from £1,095 per person, and includes a transfer from Hamburg port to the station; and rail travel home in an overnight sleeper from Hamburg to Paris, followed by Eurostar to London.  If you have not experienced sail before it is a unique experience and to be recommended.  A similar trip leaves 1 September to Lisbon.  Inbound departure dates are 21 April including a transatlantic crossing from St Maarten, and 25 August out of Hamburg. www.starclippercruises.co.uk

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