Terry Hutson’s Cruise News and Reviews

Oct 12, 2007
Author: Terry Hutson

Cunard to build new QUEEN ELIZABETH

There’s little question that the big news of the week comes from the offices of Cunard which on Wednesday revealed that a new 92,000-ton passenger liner has been ordered, to be named QUEEN ELIZABETH.

That’s ‘Queen Elizabeth’ without any digit to depict which queen or which ship she is named for. It also means that there is little likelihood that the new ship will be referred to by the acronym of QE as is the case with Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2 (much to the annoyance of certain ‘purists’).

Readers will recall that QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 (QE2) has been sold to a terminal operator in Dubai and will withdraw from service late next year to become a floating hotel and conference centre in the emirate.

Cunard’s newbuild will be built at the Italian Monfalcone shipyard of Fincantieri at a cost in the region of €500 million (about £350m) and is scheduled to enter service in the autumn of 2010. She will become the second largest Cunarder ever built, being slightly larger than the new QUEEN VICTORIA which enters service this December. She is designed to carry 2092 passengers, only a few more than Queen Victoria carries. Cunard haven’t shown any drawings of the new ship as yet but don’t expect a clone of Queen Victoria, which was of course built on the hull of a Vista class ship designed for another Carnival Corp company, Holland America, whereas Queen Elizabeth is a unique Cunard design from the word go.

For that reason alone the liner snobs will probably take it on themselves to look down a bit on the Queen Victoria as being not quite of so pure a lineage, or some such nonsense.

In making the announcement this week, Cunard's President and Managing Director, Carol Marlow had this to say:

“Cunard already owns and operates the two most famous ocean liners in the world, Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2, and a third - Queen Victoria - is due to be named by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales, in December of this year. The decision to order another ship for Cunard Line has been taken as a result of the strong booking response to the new Queen Victoria, and we are extremely pleased that Cunard will once again become a three-ship fleet so soon after the departure of the much-celebrated Queen Elizabeth 2 in November next year. Furthermore we are delighted that Her Majesty The Queen has given her blessing to our calling this new Cunarder ‘Queen Elizabeth’, after our first vessel of that name”.

Queen Elizabeth will fly the Red Ensign and be homeported at Southampton, as is the case with the other ships in the Cunard fleet. She follows a long line of famous Cunard liners stretching back to the company's inception as the first operator of a timetabled transatlantic service 167 years ago.

As with Queen Mary 2 and the soon-to-be introduced Queen Victoria, the new ship will not be comparable to the older generation ‘Queens’ including QE2, which were all built for a specific task of Transatlantic crossings. Queen Mary 2 continues this tradition, but not exclusively, spending a considerable time on world cruising and these factors were taken into account with her design, as is likely for the latest newbuild.

However the new ships continue to offer the very best of Cunard’s values and traditions, while being blended with every conceivable modern luxury that today's much more discerning travellers expect. Through her opulent public rooms and impeccable service, the new ship will continue to reflect the grandeur which has been associated with Cunard ships since the introduction of the Mauretania in 1907; and from the outside, her black hull, gleaming white superstructure and distinctive red funnel will echo the classic characteristics of the company's distinctive liner heritage.

What has been lost of course is the painful reminder, as one British newspaper (The Herald) put it shortly after the news was released, that Scotland's heyday as a world leader in building passenger liners is now just a fading memory. Adding salt to the wound, the announcement came barely weeks after QE2 bid farewell to the Clyde. And ouch… the order went to an Italian state-owned shipbuilder which now carries this honour.

In today’s global village these things shouldn’t matter, but you can be sure there will be plenty who will lose themselves in nostalgia while muttering that ‘things aren’t quite the same as they used to be.’

Fincantieri for that matter has a pretty good record of shipbuilding, especially cruise and passenger ships that now number 41 cruise ships since 1990. The new Queen Elizabeth is the 16th on their order books – not bad for an industry in Europe that only a few years ago was looking very worried indeed.

Giuseppe Bono, Fincantieri chief executive officer, was quick to seize the moment. “It is a particularly special moment for Fincantieri to have secured a second order from Cunard at a time when we are nearing the completion of Queen Victoria. Cunard is the most famous name in passenger shipping and we are honoured to have been chosen to build Queen Elizabeth and to continue the tradition and heritage of that great company".

PRINSENDAM’s Grand Africa Cruise

PRINSENDAM arriving in Cape Town – picture by Ian Shiffman

Last week I made mention of a Grand Africa Voyage planned for Holland America Line’s 37,845-gt PRINSENDAM, and promised some further detail. It’s both interesting and a little exciting to report something like this, because it’s an indication that cruise lines haven’t altogether overlooked the African continent. All too often African ports just happen to be convenient stopovers as a ship meanders from one ocean into another with a visit to a port like Cape Town or Mombasa purely incidental and fleeting to say the least.

A few lines have of course operated Round Africa cruises for some years, but they remain in the minority. I think of Fred. Olsen in this respect – to the best of my knowledge the BLACK WATCH has done several of these circumnavigations, and successful cruises they have been, highly popular with the predominantly British cruise tourist. Then there was the one-off of what can best be described as a simulated Union-Castle ‘centenary voyage’ conducted in 1999/2000 utilising the P&O ship VICTORIA, which masqueraded as a Union-Castle mailship. That was a 66-day cruise – in effect also two cruises – one from Southampton to Cape Town via St Helena on which, I’m told, many of the passengers were former crew members and staff of Union-Castle anxious to relive the past. The second half of the cruise was from the Mother City back to Southampton via the east coast and Red Sea, as per the route used by Union-Castle intermediate steamers in years gone by.

There were hopes and some talk that this ‘venture’, if successful, would be turned into something permanent but judging by the lack of anything materialising one assumes the venture was not quite what had been hoped for. The return trip up the east coast was certainly not that well supported.

The P&O cruise ship VICTORIA which was chartered by Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co in 1999 to perform a centenary voyage from Southampton to Cape Town, returning via the East Coast and Red Sea

Recreating the past is fine in small doses, and always lots of fun, but that is where many should be left, in the past. There’re plenty of good things in the present to enjoy without harping on about the so-called ‘good old days’ (we tend to forget that many of them weren’t so good and indeed some were a struggle).

Anyway, back to the Prinsendam and her Grand Africa Voyage. The journey lasts 73 days, which is fine for those with lots of lolly and plenty of spare time, but for the majority of us the tour can be tackled in smaller doses. The ship carries 793 passengers fully topped up, so things (like runs ashore) won’t be too overcrowded (imagine the strain of going ashore with 2,000 demanding passengers in a place like Luderitz. The town would burst at the seams).

Visits to the African continent – still ‘darkest Africa’ to too many Americans and not a few Europeans, I suspect - promise to expose passengers to all the majesty and spectacle of our vast continent, with all its awe-inspiring scenery, exotic wildlife (which is what most non-Africans want to see), and our rich and unique cultural blendings.

The ship sets sail from Fort Lauderdale (which must be an unusual start to any voyage to Africa) on 11 March 2008, and after 20,500 miles of voyaging will have completed calls at 28 different ports in 18 countries during which guests on the ship will have had the opportunity of experiencing lengthy port visits with late night departures, allowing lots of time ashore to make the most of each visit – time to explore and time to enjoy with dining and sightseeing.

At Cape Town and Mombasa the ship will spend three days in port, allowing plenty of time for tours, excursions and safaris.

Other ports of call include San Juan and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, Funchal in Madeira, Casablanca, Dakar, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, Cape Town, Durban, Port Louis in Mauritius, Victoria in the Seychelles, Mombasa, Safaga and Alexandria (both Egypt), Tunisia and then Malaga in Spain as the circle is closed. The voyage ends in Lisbon on 23 May 2008.

“The 2008 Grand Africa Voyage is unrivalled for its striking destinations and active adventure opportunities,” claims Richard Meadows, Holland America’s marketing man. That sounds about right and don’t I wish I had 73 days to spare (and the money to afford it).

The two main segments of the voyage are 33 days from Fort Lauderdale to Cape Town, and 40 days from Cape Town to Lisbon. Shorter segments are also available, such as a West African cruise or an East African cruise. Fares start from $7,729.

Here’s a list of all the port to be called at – not necessarily in this order: Philipsburg (St Maarten), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Grand Turk & Caicos Islands, Casablanca and Agadir (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Banjul (Gambia), Tema (Ghana), Lome (Togo), Cotonou (Benin), Douala (Cameroon), Libreville (Gabon), Walvis Bay, Luderitz, Cape Town, Durban, Richards Bay, La Possession (Reunion), Port Louis (Mauritius), Victoria (Seychelles), Mombasa, Salalah (Oman), Luxor/Kamak (Safaga, Egypt), Alexandria, Gabes (Tunisia), Malaga, Cadiz (both Spain), Lisbon.

Fancy buying a share in the ORPHALESE?

There are plans afoot to introduce another residence-type cruise ship, one named THE ORPHALESE. The name incidentally is taken from the mythical city in Kahlil Gibran’s classic book of poetry ‘The Prophet’ (one of my favourites).

According to publicity leaking out about the proposed ship, she will be the largest of her kind with a length of 292.58m, a beam of 32.2m and a draught of 8m. Her gross tonnage will be in the order of between 85,000 and 90,000-gt and where she will differ from vessels like THE WORLD is that she will have 200 permanent residences (apartments) as well as 265 suites for cruise passengers.

As might be expected she will also be fitted with all the latest services and amenities and will have a crew of 860 to make sure the residents on board are properly looked after. The ship will utilise Azipod drive propulsion and have a speed in the region of 24 knots.

The developers of this proposed ship are a California based company who have drawn on the expertise of Finnish cruise ship specialist Aker for the design work. The actual contract has not however been awarded to anyone as yet so maybe the developer’s are waiting to see how many take a lick at the bowl before deciding to go ahead with the baking.

Residences are to have three and four bedrooms, between two and five baths per residence and their own dining room and kitchen. With a number of different restaurants planned for the ship, along with night clubs and all the other public amenities that have come to be expected on board a cruise ship of the 21st Century, home cooking and entertaining will be a matter of choice.

The ship will also feature an 80,000 square foot shopping mall with retail outlets by one of the world’s leading real estate companies. Shops are likely to represent only the world’s leading brands.

To show they are serious the developers have already appointed the Orphalese’s first master. He is Captain Ola Harsheim, a Norwegian who has been the master of Residensea’s THE WORLD for the past five years and has had 40 years at sea. Capt Harsheim will have the job of overseeing the ship’s design and actual construction after which he will become the ship’s first master.

Star Cruises sells then charters back SUPERSTAR GEMINI

Star Cruises confirmed last week that it is selling the 1992-built SUPERSTAR GEMINI to the Norwegian shipping group Clipper, but is chartering back the 19,093-gt ship on a bareboat charter basis (i.e. ship only) for another year until December 2008.

Superstar Gemini has a strong following with the Australian cruising public and will deploy to Australia from Singapore where Star Cruises is based to take part in a summer cruise season off the coast of Australia.

“SuperStar Gemini has an extremely loyal following especially from the Australians as it is a truly unique ship that offers an ambience that is filled with a much personalised level of service and genuine warmth and hospitality. The crew onboard are very dedicated and many repeat guests have fondly commented that it really does feel like they are part of an extended family onboard, and this is what keeps them coming back time and time again." said David Chua, Star Cruises’ President.

Chua said that apart from the future growth potential with renewed and bigger capacities and features of ships, Star Cruises intends focusing on further improvements to its current ships, with continuous innovation and improvement of personalised services, ongoing new activities and world-class themes and performances.

Other ships in the Star Cruises fleet include SuperStar Virgo, SuperStar Aquarius, SuperStar Libra, Star Pisces, Megastar Taurus, Megastar Aries and Wasa Queen plus the company owns four cruise ships on hire to Star’s subsidiary company, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Forget the gobbledygook above from Star – the simple reason for selling Superstar Gemini is that Star intends replacing some of the older and smaller ships with newer, bigger ships. And why not.

Star Cruises began operations in 1993 when two Scandinavian ferries were acquired, the ATHENS and the KALYPSO (now Star Pisces). Two years later Star Gemini was bought, the first true cruise ship in the fleet. From this modest beginning the company, part of the Malaysian-based Genting Group, has expanded operations to become one the largest cruise operators with a fleet of 21 ships when including the NCL fleet and the single ship of Orient Lines (MARCO POLO).

What Star Cruises has also been successful at is demonstrating that cruising is not only an American or European pastime and is something that can become popular with almost any nation.

That’s all for now – apologies for this edition being delayed - so much to do and so little time… (somebody else more famous got in first with that excuse). For the immediate future Cruise News & Reviews will appear as often as possible (hopefully weekly) but not on any specific day. It will be highlighted on the day of appearance in our daily News Bulletin and in the Newsletter so keep an eye out for this.

Your ideas, suggestions and comments are as always very welcome.



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