7 APRIL 2014
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This month's cruising issue of BTN has plenty of news and a report on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Spirit by Wendy Long, Business Travel News' French correspondent.
Prince Phillip will celebrate Queen Mary 2’s ten years of service on 9 May at Southampton.
The London Cruise Show took place 22-23 March at Olympia and CLIA UK & Ireland held a very well attended reception at London’s Mayfair Hotel to announce the cruising figures for 2013.
Opened in 1886, the National Hall at Olympia may seem to set the wrong image for the London Cruise Show, but the spacious wrought iron Victorian building has excellent natural lighting and no infuriating pillars to make life difficult for exhibitors.
The sixth annual show took place Saturday/Sunday 22/23 March attracting around 20,000 visitors over the two days. Organised in partnership with the Daily Mail most of the major cruise lines exhibited (with some amazing show deals), with a series of free talks useful for experienced cruisers and newcomers alike, and a whole plethora of stands offering everything from individual river trips to specialised clothing for those planning a cruise to the far north or Antarctica. Olympia has spawned regional exhibitions which this year are planned for Manchester Central, 13-14 September; NEC Birmingham, 20-21 September and SECC Glasgow, 11-12 October. That is the time to pick up your winter bargains.
Figures by CLIA UK & Ireland (the successor to the Passenger Shipping Association) show that 2013 was another record year for the UK cruise market, with continued expansion and British port embarkations passing the one million mark for the first time.
This growth comes at a time of sustained investment by the cruise industry. This year and next year alone will see 13 ocean cruise ships launched, worth almost £5bn
The UK retains its position as Europe’s No. 1 market accounting for 27% of cruise passengers and, globally, is second only to North America.
A cruise in the Mediterranean remained the most popular holiday choice for British passengers, accounting for 644,000 of them, although this is set to be overtaken by Northern Europe which is now the destination of choice for one in three UK passengers having jumped 20% to 531,000 UK passengers in 2013.
Although fly-cruise is not on the wane (Cunard for instance basing the Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean this summer) there is a trend for UK passengers starting their cruises at home rather than overseas. Just six years ago, only a third of UK passengers began their holiday from British ports. By 2013, it was almost half (49%) and in 2014/15, it is likely that more UK passengers will start their cruise holiday from Britain rather than an overseas port.
The industry’s investment is not limited to new vessels, but can also be seen in the innovation and imagination the cruise lines invest in the development of their itineraries. This is borne out by the fact that the destination remains the number one reason given by UK passengers for choosing a cruise holiday.
Andy Harmer, Director, CLIA UK & Ireland, says: “Momentum has returned to the UK cruise market in 2013 with significant growth in passengers numbers and especially in embarkations from our home ports – both of which are impressive achievements when set against a backdrop of an economy that has proven slow to recover.
Cruising maintains one of the highest satisfaction levels in leisure travel, driving an equally high level of repeat business. For the second consecutive year, 2013 saw more passengers taking multiple cruises (52%) than just one cruise.
CRUISE NEWS APRIL
Venice cruise ban lifted
A limit on the number of large cruise ships that can visit Venice has been lifted just months after it was imposed by the Italian government.
Since January, the government had reduced by 20% the number of cruise ships over 40,000 tons due to fears they were damaging the World Heritage-listed city.
However, a regional court in Veneto suspended the law, ruling that the risks posed by the cruise ships have not been proven. The suspension will last until June, when the issue will be re-examined. Venice is working on plans to open a new shipping route into the city which will avoid cruise liners from sailing along the Grand Canal but these have not yet been approved.
Disney Cruise Line has announced a return to visiting the UK as part of its summer 2015 itineraries. Dover will feature as an embarkation or disembarkation port on three cruises including an 11-night Norwegian Fjords and Iceland itinerary and 12-night Northern European cruise.
Ports of call on the Disney Magic cruises will include Copenhagen, Oslo, Reykjavik, Stockholm, St Petersburg and Tallinn.
Bookings have opened for the cruises today, with another seven departures also available throughout the Baltics and Mediterranean.
The cruise line is hooking the new itineraries around the recently-released ‘Frozen’ film which is set in Norway and is based on The Snow Queen. http://disneycruise.disney.go.com
Ambassador Hostesses for Crystal
In an industry first, Crystal Cruises is introducing Ambassador Hostesses on select cruises, expanding its hugely popular onboard dancing programme. Female counterparts to the line’s Ambassador Hosts will debut on three Ballroom at Sea voyages in 2014 and 2015. Along with eight male dance hosts (double the usual number), the trans-Atlantic sailings will each feature two Ambassador Hostesses to cha cha, swing and waltz with solo gentlemen during evening dance sets, live orchestra performances and dance classes in the ships’ stylish lounges. 5 October 2014, Lisbon/Miami, Crystal Symphony (10 nights), 12 June 2015, New York/London, Crystal Symphony (16 nights), 11 December 2015, Lisbon/Miami, Crystal Serenity (11 nights). www.crystalcruises.com
Princess Cruises ‘all inclusive’
Princess Cruises has announced that an ‘all inclusive’ package will be available on one of its UK-based ships for the first time. The offer, which forms part of the Princess Cruises 2015 Europe programme, will be available on 10 sailings in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe on board Caribbean Princess. The 3,000-passenger ship will set sail from the UK during spring and summer next year.
The cruise line has also revealed that Royal Princess, which was launched by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge last year, will return to the UK for spring and summer 2015. The ship will sail out of Southampton for a series of British Isles roundtrips, including calls at Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast. She will additionally tour the Baltics on a 12-night tour in June of next year, including visits to Copenhagen, Stockholm and St Petersburg. www.princess.com
Cuba for winter 2014
Following its successful inaugural season, Cuba Cruise, the niche product affiliated with Louis Cruises, has set new sailing details for winter 2014/2015. The Canadian company has now confirmed a second season with innovative seven-night circumnavigation sailings embarking every Monday from Havana (Cuba) and every Friday from Montego Bay (Jamaica) from 22 December 2014 to 30 March 2015. http://yourcubacruise.com
WINTER SUN BREAKS FROM BARCELONA WITH NORWEGIAN
Wendy Long and husband Peter drove down from the other side of Toulouse.
Norwegian Spirit at MalagaNorwegian Spirit at MalagaA cultural experience it is not. The Norwegian Spirit’s catchphrases “Party like a Norwegian” and “Cruise like a Norwegian” give one a good idea of what to expect. Certainly not classical music nor guest lectures. However, although the entertainment would seem to cater best for young-at-heart couples and families, as a short winter break for anyone living within easy reach of the Mediterranean, Norwegian’s nine-day cruise from Barcelona to Casablanca, Madeira, Canary Islands and Malaga is ideal, as easily reached by car or train, as well as air. French Railways have a new TGV service to Barcelona and the World Trade Centre has adjacent parking at a special cruise rate. About one third of the 2,000 passengers are British, the rest mainly from Germany, France and Spain, plus a number from America, other European countries and the Far East, which makes for an interesting mix. The ship’s officers are mainly from Eastern Europe and the Caribbean.
Norwegian Spirit began life as Super-Star Leo, built in 1998 for Star Cruises’ South-east Asian market and this is reflected in much of the décor and venue names. Ships are often sold and renamed and Armando da Silva, Spirit’s charismatic Hotel Director, narrated the story of two sisters whose only recent contact had been by phone but had each booked a cruise, one under the name of Crown Odyssey and the other on the newly acquired Norwegian Crown. On the second day of their cruise, imagine their surprise when they came face to face in the lift on the same ship.
The Atrium. Lifts with a viewThe Atrium. Lifts with a viewNo such mix up when Norwegian took over Spirit, which had a multi-million dollar renovation in 2011 before being deployed in Europe. The clever electronic dining and show booking system was added too. It may not have all the facilities and space of the new super liners but Spirit is an elegant ship, immediately apparent as one steps aboard into the two-tiered Atrium. A café, reception and excursion desks line thee sides, the fourth being taken up with three glass-walled lifts situated behind two pools with a fountain, and a grand staircase leading up to the gallery of smart shops and Charlie’s Champagne Bar, where a pianist plays pleasant pre-dinner music, although seating is limited. Unfortunately, the large central area is frequently cluttered with sales tables and equipment for photo sessions.
Norwegian’s innovative Freestyle Dining has its advantages but we personally missed not meeting up with the same people for dinner and joking with the same waiter (although Armando was right in that you could be stuck with people you don’t like). The main Windows and Garden Room restaurants (included in the cruise price) seat 900 between them and are open for dinner from 17:30 to 22:30 so never get overbooked. The food is excellent and well presented with the same basic menu throughout, but with different dishes and Chef’s Special added daily.
Cagneys Steakhouse for fine dining in a quiet cornerCagneys Steakhouse for fine dining in a quiet cornerThe other complimentary eating area is the self-service Raffles Court and Terrace on Deck 12, offering a very wide choice of hot and cold food. Being the most popular choice for breakfast and lunch, with seating only for 170 people, it can get very crowded. The speciality restaurants incur an additional charge of up to US$30 per person, but if celebrating a particular occasion, their smaller size and individual décor and ambiance make them attractive. Le Bistro with its Art Nouveau décor is very pleasing and the Japanese Teppanyaki seemed booked every evening. Others include Cagneys Steak House, La Trattoria, the Asian Fusion Shogun and Sushi Bar. Another popular eatery is the Blue Lagoon Café open 24 hours a day, but with limited seating.
Freestyle Daily delivered to cabins ensures everyone is aware of the daily entertainment, which is non-stop, with many events concurrent. The main hub is the Galaxy of the Stars on Deck 12, a splendid observation lounge, offering by day, bingo, trivia, magic shows, napkin and towel folding, cooking competitions, arts and crafts and every kind of dance classes and by night, disco, cabaret, karaoke, game shows and live dance music by the resident band and singers.
The theatre is worthy of the West EndThe theatre is worthy of the West EndShows in the magnificent Stardust Theatre, with its plush red, tiered seating and balcony are twice nightly. Currently on offer were singers, magicians, illusionists, jugglers, aerial acts and Flamenco, these type of acts also included in a spectacular show “Elements.” A reasonable standard and well attended, as with the Galaxy not to our taste, but seemingly most people were enthusiastic. The decibel level of the music was deafening but slightly more acceptable on the balcony.
For gamblers, the Maharajah’s Casino, with 158 slot machines and tables for blackjack, roulette and other games, together with the Maharini’s Lounge and Nightclub, is one of the largest areas on the ship, situated forward on the main deck.
The remainder of the venues are small with limited seating: the Library and Internet Café, Card/board-games room, the Roman Spa and Fitness Centre, Conference Rooms, Art and Photo Galleries, as well as various cafés and bars inside and out.
The Tivoli pool with four hot tubs, sun-beds and deckchairs is centrally situated on Deck 12, with a jogging track, basket ball court and golf driving net on the top deck.
Youngsters are well looked after on Norwegian SpiritYoungsters are well looked after on Norwegian SpiritChildren are well catered for with the popular Buccaneer’s Wet and Wild pool with slides and hot tub next to Charlie’s Child Care Centre offering arts and crafts, cinema, computers and nursery for the very young. Teenagers have their own disco and arcade games in rooms which appear to be well insulated.
Balcony cabins are situated on three upper decks, along with suites; outside cabins with window are below and there are a number of inside ones on most decks. Cabins are advertised as three-bedded but although quite adequate for two, with ample wardrobe and drawer space, if the settee had to be made up as a bed, it would be very cramped.
Four of the nine days are in port and the well-planned excursions enable one to see the best of all the destinations. Very popular are those including unusual highlights like the camel ride on Lanzarote (amusing to watch but we gave that a miss, after a previous such experience in Morocco) and the famous but terrifying toboggan ride in Madeira (which as my parents did it 50 years ago, we had to try, but never again).
A special kids pool over the sternA special kids pool over the sternThe staff from around 60 countries were very pleasant and helpful but the US$12 service charge per person per day added automatically to your on-board account, as gratuities to be shared out among them, is not popular. When including the use of speciality restaurants, wine, café and bar charges, spa and internet, etc the extras bill can quickly mount up to more than the cost of the cruise. Although not encouraged, it is possible to opt out of the US$12 service charge and many passengers were doing so. Perhaps the scheme should be revised.
Spirit continues the same schedule until 15 April and restarts on 26 November (some sailings add Tenerife to make it 10 days). For the summer it is from Barcelona to Venice via the Eastern Mediterranean and vice versa. Or you can try Epic, twice the size, and according to the Editor, just as much fun (See BTN 29 July).
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