Nov 7, 2008
Author: Terry Hutson

  • MSC SINFONIA to cruise in Southern African waters

  • End of the road for Ocean Village

  • Hesitant start for Orient Lines

  • For what it’s worth

  • P&O names new ship AZURA

  • End of the line for Fred Olsen’s BLACK PRINCE

  • EUROPA scores again as Berlitz’s ‘Best Ship’


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    MSC SINFONIA to cruise in Southern African waters

    MSC Sinfonia - to cruise in Southern Africa next summer

    Some important breaking news follows confirmation of the sale of the MSC cruise ship RHAPSODY, which we first reported in our daily News Bulletin of 27 October. It appears that Rhapsody is going to Israeli interests at the end of her current South African cruise season next April.

    In her place PORTS & SHIPS can reveal that MSC SINFONIA (58,714-gt) will be the new kid on the block next summer. The 58,715-gt Sinfonia, built a mere six years ago, will arrive in Durban in either November or early December 2009 to take on what has become a well-established tradition of summer cruises along the South African and Mozambique coasts.

    It is probably true to say that this is the first time that Southern Africa will have a truly modern large cruise ship based in its waters, and not before time dare we say! At 251m in length Sinfonia differs markedly from the likes of Rhapsody, Monterey, Melody, Symphony and Achille Lauro which have preceded her, the others all being either converts from passenger liners or a sort of hybrid between liner and cruise design.
    Purists will no doubt be left less than happy at the departure of the so-called traditional design of passenger ships and her replacement with the somewhat uglier box-ship, floating hotel design favoured today, but more importantly the paying passenger is unlikely to give a fig, caring only for what they are getting for their money. And rightly so!

    Whether having been designed purely for cruising makes her a better ship for local purposes, only time and experience will tell, despite what the pundits might say. Our guess is that the answer will be yes.

    Built in 2002 at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shioyard in St Nazaire in France as the EUROPEAN STARS for Festival Cruises, she passed into MSC hands with the demise of that company three years later, along with a near sister ship MSC ARMONIA (ex EUROPEAN VISION).

    MSC Sinfonia carries considerably more passengers than does Rhapsody – 1,566 passengers against 950, along with a crew of 700. Passengers are accommodated in 132 suites, each with private balcony (another first for a South African-based ship), two additional family sized suites without balconies, 371 outside staterooms and another 272 inside including four staterooms for disabled passengers, giving a total of 777 cabins in total.

    Staterooms and suites are equipped with air-conditioning, satellite television, mini bar, room safe, radio and 24-hour service.

    a balcony suite

    With a European style decor throughout the ship has a bright and spacious feel in the public areas, possessing all the necessary restaurants, lounges, bars, discos and other amenities including a rather ugly sports centre up topside.

    Some criticism will possibly be lodged about the size of the staterooms (13 square metres), although it’s probably true to say that for many passengers on the shorter coastal Southern African cruises this will hardly matter with little time being spent in cabins anyway. As might be expected the suites are somewhat more spacious at 22 sq m.

    The second MSC cruise ship operating on the coast this present summer, MSC MELODY will not be returning next summer, according to sources. One wonders if Melody will become the next MSC cruise ship to find her way into hands other than MSC.

    MSC Sinfonia will be operated in southern Africa by Starlight Cruises.

    Sinfonia - one of the public lounges

    End of the road for Ocean Village

    Ocean Village, a cruise line designed around catering for ‘people who don’t do cruises’ is to stop operating in 2010, her owner Carnival Cruises has announced.

    When the line was introduced in 2003 the intention, so it said, was to break into so-called traditional cruising by means of having little formality on board and no fixed timetables. The first ship transferred to Ocean Village by parent company Carnival Cruises was the 1989-built OCEAN VILLAGE (launched as Sitmar’s FAIR MAJESTY) and later renamed as P&O’s STAR PRINCESS and later the ARCADIA.

    In 2007 a second ship, also a Sitmar design, was brought under the Ocean Village branding with the equally uninspiring name OCEAN VILLAGE 2 (69,845-gt), which entered service with Princess Cruises in 1988 as CROWN PRINCESS before eventually ending up with Carnival’s German subsidiary Aida as the AIDABLU.

    Carnival intends transferring both ships to P&O Cruises Australia with the first vessel going across in time for the summer 2009/10 season and the other to follow a year later. During the northern summer both ships will operate in the Caribbean.

    Carnival still maintains that Ocean Village was a success in helping change the face of British cruising, saying that its other UK brands have benefitted from the experience. One can deduce however that experience alone wasn’t enough.

    The transfer of the two ships to Australia means that P&O Cruises Australia will then have doubled its capacity by the time both are in operation. The first ship to ‘go across’ is Ocean Village 2 which will be renamed PACIFIC JEWEL and will operate out of Brisbane, freeing up another ship operating from that port, PACIFIC SUN to move to Fremantle as her homebase.

    The renaming of the second Ocean Village ship has not been announced but with her arrival P&O Cruises will have accommodation for up to 8,000 passengers at any one time during the Australian summer season.

    Hesitant start for Orient Lines

    With the shipping world still awaiting the full effects of the recent economic collapse, newly established Orient Lines has sent ten full-time employees on leave (or furlough as they call it in the US) – hardly the sort of move to inspire confidence.

    According to a statement issued by the company, the move has enabled Orient to cut expenses without impacting on operations. Among those affected was executive vice president Bruce Nierenberg, who subsequently resigned his position.

    Orient Lines recently acquired the former MARCO POLO, a cruise ship well-known in Southern African waters from her days with a different Orient Lines, which itself was later taken over as a one-ship subsidiary company of Norwegian Cruise Line.

    MARCO POLO was built in East Germany in 1965 as the Russian ALEKSANDR PUSHKIN but was sold in 1991 to a British company where she operated under the banner of Orient Line. She was rebuilt between 1991 and 1993 to give her a passenger capacity of 826 passengers. Picture David Shackleton

    For what it’s worth

    A recent report has shown that cruising injected 150.7 million Australian dollars into the New South Wales economy during the 2007/08 cruise season in Australia. That was a massive 57% increase on the previous year and reflects why cruise ships are being received into Aussie waters with such enthusiasm and greater frequency.

    The commissioned report, Economic Impact of the Cruise Shipping Industry in Australia indicates clearly how it has become a vital part of the state’s tourism business.

    According to NSW Minister for Tourism, Jodi McKay, indirect spin-offs add up to an even greater bonanza for the state. He said that indirect spin-offs included jobs created in related service industries, which swelled the total value of cruise ship visits to NSW to 293 million Australian dollars for the season – almost double the figure derived directly from ship visits.

    The direct benefit is calculated by the amount that passengers, crews and cruise operators spend during their stay. Of the 108 cruise ship visits to Australia last season, 101 of them were to Sydney.

    The report said that 246,684 passenger days were spent in NSW, an increase from 150,298 the year before.

    The minister said the state was ensuring that Sydney had the infrastructure to ensure these ships and their passengers came back again and again.

    P&O names new ship AZURA

    P&O Cruises new 116,000-gt super cruise ship VENTURA, launched into service earlier this year. A second ship is to be named AZURA. Picture P&O Cruises

    Cruise company P&O Cruises has announced that its latest new ship is to be named AZURA.

    She will be similar to the VENTURA which entered service with P&O Cruises earlier this year. At 116,000-gt they become the biggest ships in the fleet, boasting 15 decks, 900 balconied cabins, 11 restaurants, four swimming pools and all the other attractions necessary on modern cruise ships to pamper up to 3,100 passengers.

    Construction of the new ship began last week at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone shipyard near Trieste. Azura is due to join the fleet in 2010.

    Ventura joined P&O Cruises earlier this year.

    P&O Cruises’ managing director Nigel Esdale described the name Azura as “very fitting for this most sophisticated of superliners.

    “It is also appropriate for a ship that will be a haven of serenity and the embodiment [of] the choice and service excellence for which P&O Cruises is renowned,” he said.

    The ship is expected to make her maiden voyage from Southampton in the late (northern) spring of 2010. Destinations and cruise schedules will be published early in 2009.

    End of the line for Fred Olsen’s BLACK PRINCE

    The popular but ageing Fred Olsen cruise ship BLACK PRINCE is to be withdrawn from service in October 2009, Managing Director Mike Rodwell has announced. He said it was a sad moment but the 1966-built Black Prince has reached the end of the line, despite being one of the best loved ships catering for the UK market.

    “Many passengers have cruised on her so often that even they have lost track of the number of holidays they have taken. We know that there will be thousands of passengers who have sailed on her who will be very sad on that final day,” Rodwell said

    There is no immediate indication of the fate of the ship, which will require expensive SOLAS 2010 compliance to continue sailing. Nevertheless there is some speculation that the ship, which has a capacity of 440 passengers, may be sold and not scrapped.

    Black Prince will finish her career with Fred Olsen with a series of final cruises including round Britain cruises and a final 14-day voyage to the Canary Islands, which was one of her familiar stamping grounds.

    Fred Olsen currently operates a five ship fleet consisting of BALMORAL, BOUDICCA, BLACK WATCH, BLACK PRINCE and BRAEMAR. The company has been strengthened with the acquisition of the former NORWEGIAN CROWN (previously CROWN ODYSSEY), now renamed BALMORAL and the largest ship in the fleet (1400 passengers, 43,537-gt), which will complete her first World Cruise next May.

    EUROPA scores again as Berlitz’s ‘Best Ship’

    Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA in Durban on a previous visit. For the ninth consecutive year the German ship has been judged by a leading travel publication as the best cruise ship for. Picture Terry Hutson

    Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA (28,437-gt, 450 passengers) has again scored highest in the latest (2009) edition of the Berlitz Cruise Guide. Voted the “best ship in the world” for the ninth year in succession, Europa, which will visit Southern African ports in December, recorded 1,852 points out of a possible 2,000.

    Europa is also the only ship to gain a ‘Five Star Plus’ category from British judge and cruise ship fundi Douglas Ward who evaluates cruise ships on behalf of the Berlitz publisher. The ship has taken the top honours every year since entering service in 1999.

    Second best ship, according to the guide is SEA DREAM II, which scored 1788 points. Never heard of Sea Dream II? Well, she is one of those smaller boutique type cruise ships of just 4,260-gt which carries 116 passengers, and may be better remembered as the former Cunarder SEA GODDESS II (later SEABOURN GODDESS II).

    That's it for this edition of PORTS & SHIPS Cruise News. We know it's been long overdue, and with no guarantees or promises other than the enthusiasm brought on by the start of a new summer cruise season, dare we say it is our intention (hope?) to feature a weekly or at least fortnightly Cruise News Bulletin on Fridays. These will be mailed out with the daily Newsletter to those that have subscribed (it's free, use the form on the title home page) and will also appear in the usual spot, this column of PORTS & SHIPS


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