3 NOVEMBER 2014
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In this month’s BTN cruise review we look at two river cruise companies, both expansion minded. For the largest European operator, Viking, it means going the whole hog and introducing three brand new seagoing ships. With Australian-owned Scenic it is by developing a slightly less up-market brand aimed at a younger people, Emerald, which was launched earlier this year (See BTN 5 May)
We introduce Viking Ocean Cruises and for Scenic familiarise ourselves with the attractive Scenic Ruby.
ON TOUR brings you a seven-night 'scenic' Rhine meander.
CRUISE INTELLIGENCE this month is a news update and finally it is worth mentioning that this issue is being produced on Oceania Riviera, somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Whilst 2014 has been a tremendous year for the UK cruise marked with 1.7m bookings, 2015 could be even more so.
BTN has reported on P & O’s Britannia, with its 3600 lower beds adding 25% to Britain’s largest cruise lines capacity. RCCL Anthem of the Seas comes on-line in the Spring with berths for 4180 passengers, joined later in the year by Norwegian Escape with around the same numbers.
The completely new arrival is aimed at a different market. Viking Star is an undertaking by the enormously successful American owned river cruise company that trades under the Norse banner. For 2016 Viking has two more virtually identical ships on order, each offering 928 beds. Viking is taking on a number of established quality cruise lines with ships of under one thousand passenger capacity including (in alphabetical order) Azamara, Crystal, Oceania, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea. A least for the first year it is being careful, confining Viking Star to maiden voyages in Scandinavia and the Baltic; and the Western and Eastern Mediterranean. She begins sailing in May.
Unlike other newcomers in recent times Viking has a large base of very satisfied customers from its river cruises. The plan is to replicate the service and offerings that clients have got used too. Viking claims to have sold 90% of capacity for the first year. Converting past customer is part of the campaign.
“It is our view that in the race to build bigger ships, many cruise lines have lost sight of the destinations to which they sail,” said Torstein Hagen, Chairman of Viking Cruises. “With our new ocean cruises, we are applying the same principles behind our award-winning river cruises to our itinerary and ship design; privileged-access excursions; and on-board experiences to make destinations the true focus.”
As a direct result of extensive feedback and input from Viking River Cruises passengers the itineraries call for maximum time in port, often with late evenings or overnights, so guests can experience local nightlife or evening performances. Ports include both cosmopolitan cities and “collector ports,” and appeal to those with an interest in history, art and culture. The Viking all-inclusive pricing continues including gratuities (if booked before , shore excursions in each port, beer and wine with lunch and dinner service, free wi-fi; self-service laundry and 24-hour room service. Children are not encouraged and under 12’s not allowed. There is no casino on board.
Star is an all veranda ship and includes 14 Explorer two-room suites offering wrap around private verandas. Even what might be termed the ‘basic’ veranda stateroom offers a whopping 270 sq ft.
Passengers will have the choice of two swimming pools, a main one with retractable dome and an infinity pool, glass-backed, cantilevered off the stern.
Viking Star offers multiple restaurant locations and food choices—from The Restaurant and the World Café, serving a variety of global cuisines and regional specialties—to intimate dining experiences at The Chef’s Table, Italian Grill and The Kitchen Table, all serving meals prepared with fresh, local ingredients
The ships on-board venues include a dramatic three-deck atrium where passengers can enjoy musicians playing regional and classical music; the Star Theatre, home of enrichment lectures from scholars and experts; an on-board cooking school where guests can learn local specialties; and the Viking Piano Lounge, the social centre.
Viking is offering a variety of cruises from 15 days out of Stockholm to its shortest trip, the traditional Barcelona – Rome western Mediterranean voyage.
At 48,000 tones Viking Star is a sleek, yacht like ship. She has even a heliport at the bow. The Viking product is long established and well thought off. Reinvented on the Oceans of the world the competition should be wary.
And Scenic – Not as big as Viking but just as ambitious.
Scenic dates back to 1986 when Australian Glen Moroney, still very much in charge as Managing Director today, established a package holiday company. In the early 1990s it developed a successful programme of tours across both Australia and New Zealand, followed by Norfolk Island in 1997 and Southern Africa in 1998. By the end of the decade it had expanded to host tours to Canada, Alaska and USA under the banner of Scenic Tours.
2008 hailed the beginning of a new chapter for the Melbourne based operation with the launch of the up-market Scenic ‘Space-Ships’ river cruisers in Europe. Whilst other operators classify their products de-lux or superior the Scenic statistics stand out. All Rhine and Danube river ships are limited by the size of the locks, 135m x 11m the maximum hull configuration. The Scenic ships only have 85, 10 less than some of their competitors. This means not only the offer the largest standard suites on the rivers but with less passengers more room in the public areas also.
All the suites on the two top decks feature full-size private outdoor balconies that uniquely can be indoors too. A large, electrically operated window is outbound of the sliding veranda door. You can be inside or outside in the same place and have your butler serve breakfast any morning. A shoe shine and pressing service is also offered gratis for clients on these decks. It is part of the service. All tipping and gratuities are taken care off.
The printed guides and general paperwork supplied is of the highest quality. It all arrives in a Scenic Tours back-pack about a week before the off.
Stateroom luxury include Queen size Slumber beds with pillow menu, Egyptian cotton linen, Luxury robes and slippers, L’Occitane products, 32 inch Samsung HD TVs linked to Mac mini computers. With some of the largest suites there are full size baths, but for the majority the ensuite is an exceptional compromise, with glass screens for the shower and a really large wash hand basin. One minor grumble is that the door could fold back further. There is plenty of space. And talking of space the offerings are more than adequate for a seven day cruise.
River cruise ships, because of their size, have to a compromise. There is no gym, travellers will be kept busy enough during to day to keep fit, and no doctor (but trained medical staff). At any point you are not far from a hospital. There is a hairdresser on board and a wellness centre.
Remarkably Scenic offers four dining possibilities, or even five if you add in the on-deck barbeque offered during the summer.
There is the Crystal Restaurant, self service for breakfast (an omelette station is offered) for breakfast and lunch, and full waiter service in the evening. The selection is good, high quality and with a vegetarian selection always available. All alcoholic beverages on board is part of the package (except if you want some exceptional wines) and the wines themselves reflect the areas one is travelling through. What can be achieved in a tiny kitchen is remarkable.
Once during the cruise you will be invited to Portobellos, a traditional Italian restaurant and welcomed with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Laid out just for a maximum of 30 people this separate area on the lounge deck doubles as the River Café day time with a selection of sandwiches, piazza and delicious cakes. In the evening it is the venue for a superb five course meal complimented by exceptional wines. The talk and chat goes on to the late hours.
Table La Rive is tucked away in a quiet section of the Crystal Restaurant. Here again you will be once during the cruise to consume the Chef’s Table degustation, exceptional cuisine.
The evenings are quiet with a briefing on the next days activities and occasionally local entertainers. There us a resident pianist.
Once docked there is a choice of tours and for the more energetic electric assisted bicycles. Also supplied to every suite is a Scenic Tailormade a unique GPS device which you can hang around your neck when on a trip (or want to know more about a place one is passing).
There is an interactive map and commentary. On the organised tours the guide is plugged into the system but if you want to be more independent, just take your time and enjoy the benefit of an expert commentary at set locations.
It works on a bike ride too, but you must be careful. Concentrate of the cycling first. Once you get the hang of it a fine gadget.
THE 7th ANNUAL LONDON CRUISE SHOW takes place at Olympia on 14-15 February 2015. Business Travel News has negotiated a price of just £2 per ticket against the £10 if you turn up and go to the box office. Easily the largest exhibition of its kind in Europe most of the major cruise operators will be showing, plus a collection of lesser known companies offering specialist trips, typically the Gallipolis and at the other extreme, the Scottish Islands. Both deep sea and river cruising are being promoted, entirely different products. The free talk programme is always interesting and is an ideal way of learning about cruising if you have never been before. Best of all are the show bargains which are usually dramatic. You can get expert advice and actually book your cabin. For tickets Quote E1 on 0871 620 4024 or visit http://cruiseshowlondon.seetickets.com
CRYSTAL CRUISES in response to feedback from its guests is introducing a simpler evening dress code, beginning 21 December 2014 on-board both its award-winning ships. It is going to be a more casual Christmas on board. While daytime attire is acceptable any time before 18:00, the suggested evening dress code simplifies the current options of Resort Casual, Elegant Casual and Black-Tie Optional and will now feature only two preferences “Crystal Casual” – A dressed-up version of casual attire and Black Tie calling for dark suits with ties or tuxedos for men and formal cocktail or evening dresses, or formal evening separates for women. www.crystalcruises.com
P&O AND THE UNION JACK: Ship spotters will be forgiven if they think they have see P&O’s latest Britannia with its distinctive Union Jack brow. The honour of first carrying the 175-year-old line’s new motif will fall on Aurora, one of the company’s adults only ships. From 29 November to 18 December she will be in dock in Hamburg, ahead of its Christmas and New Year cruise and before the South America & Pacific Adventure world cruise departing Southampton 8 January 2015. She will emerge not only with the Union bow but also the Union Flag on its bow and new blue funnels with illuminated rising sun designs. What cannot be seen on the outside is the multi-million pound upgrade internally with flat TV screens to every cabin and a complete re-think of the dining arrangements master minded by chefs Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar and wine expert and TV presenter Olly Smith. Much more too. www.pocruises.com
THOMSON CRUISES is to base Thomson Celebration at Dubrovnik for 2015 with the introduction of four new itineraries and adult cruising for the whole season. Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle have been added to the list of UK departure airports. Thomson Spirit and Thomson Majesty join the Platinum fleet with an interior makeover and the addition of new balcony cabins. Thomson Spirit also has a new home port in Marmaris (Turkey) with an expanded range of cruises. www.thomson.co.uk/Cruises
PORTLAND PORT is now making great efforts in a bid to attract future cruise ship visits. It hosted sailing events for the 2012 Olympic Games. Once a former Royal Navy base it can currently handle ships up to 300m long with visitors this year including Crystal Serenity, Holland America’s Ryndam and Eurodam, and also (just) RCCL Brilliance of the Sea. The port has recognised that in order to persuade further cruise lines to add it to their itineary it does need the support of local leisure and attraction operators. It recently hosted amongst others Lulworth, Forde Abbey, Weymouth Golf Club, Monkey World, the Tank Museum, the National Trust, Portland Castle, Langhams Wine Estate, Bennetts Water Gardens and the Swanage Railway. It also has the advantage of the UNESCO world heritage sites of Stonehenge, Bath and the Jurassic Coast. www.portland-port.co.uk
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