Ports & Ships Cruise News

Jan 30, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson

  • BALMORAL makes waves off Spain

  • NCL names new ship NORWEGIAN EPIC

  • Cruise ships to the rescue

  • SAGA expands river cruising for 2009

  • Follow SAGA RUBY round Africa


    BALMORAL makes waves of Spain

    The Bay of Biscay has long held a reputation for rough seas and big storms. Anyone who can remember the days of the Union-Castle ‘mailboats’ will also remember the tales, no-doubt sometimes exaggerated, sometimes real, of the crossing of this dreaded patch of water on what was virtually the last leg of a long voyage from the Cape to Southampton.

    Somehow in those days it never seemed fashionable to talk about our very own Wild Coast, that ‘patch’ of water between Durban and East London which is notorious for freak waves that could and did swallow up a ship. Think only of the WARATAH, at the time one of the most modern liners in the world, which disappeared without trace somewhere between Port St Johns and East London. Think of more recent ships that also sank or disappeared, including in more recent times another passenger vessel the OCEANUS which sank within hours of sailing from East London – although we know for certain that sea conditions played only a contributory role in her going to the bottom.

    These thoughts came to mind last week when news was received of the BALMORAL, Fred Olsen’s recent acquisition (the much-loved ex Crown Odyssey) which encountered horrific seas while negotiating the Bay of Biscay en route to the Canary Islands with a ship full of English passengers angling for a bit of sun and beach.

    Instead of a pleasant voyage they ran into one of the worst storms to come that way in decades, with waves as high as 50 foot (roughly 15 metres) waves and winds gusting up to 60 mph.

    Battered by the storm which blew in from the direction of the Azores, the ship headed for the northern Spanish port of La Coruna, hoping to find shelter from nature’s fury. Alas it didn’t prove to be quite plain sailing into port, as the pictures taken from local helicopters show. The large 43,500-ton ship was tossed about as though she were a rubber toy in a child’s bathtub, leaving several passengers to be thrown about and two Britons to be taken later to a local hospital for treatment to broken bones.

    For the remainder of the passengers it was the end of the trip, as the cruise was cancelled and the ship’s owner and operator, Fred Olsen Cruises, arranged to fly everyone back home. The Balmoral suffered no lasting damage and was able to take up her next cruise, also from Dover this week to the Canaries with 1,400 passengers and 500 crew who appeared not in the least deterred by what had gone before.

    Readers may recall that on entering service with Fred Olsen Cruises, the former NORWEGIAN CROWN / CROWN ODYSSEY underwent a stretching in which the ship was cut in half and lengthened by an additional 30 metres.

    The author once enjoyed seven nights on board this delightful ship, during her brief spell with Orient Lines during which she had returned to the name Crown Odyssey. The voyage through the Mediterranean proved as peaceful and enjoyable as anyone could have wished, yet a fortnight or so later on a similar cruise the ship ran into freak weather conditions off the Italian coastline during which several large windows were shattered, furniture broken and a number of passengers injured.

    Which goes to suggest that it doesn’t matter where you cruise, the sea although mostly well behaved always deserves the utmost respect.

    NCL names new ship NORWEGIAN EPIC

    Miami, 27 January – Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) today (Tuesday) unveiled its latest and largest cruise ship, the F3 Freestyle vessel NORWEGIAN EPIC.

    The 4,200-passenger ship is due to commence year-round 7-day cruises in the Caribbean from her homeport of Miami in time for the start of the 2010 northern summer. The ship will have two itineraries - the Western Caribbean itinerary includes stops in Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico while her Eastern Caribbean itinerary includes stops in Philipsburg, St Maarten; St Thomas, US Virgin Islands and Nassau, Bahamas.

    These cruises are due to go on sale to the public later this year.

    Norwegian Epic represents the next generation of Freestyle Cruising, hence the F3 designation – a ship that incorporates a wide range of new features and amenities, including curved New Wave staterooms and unique nightlife options.

    To date, the company has revealed five unique nightlife venues that rival the experiences of Las Vegas, Ibiza, the Riviera and South Beach. The five venues include the industry’s first Ice Bar; POSH Beach Club, a first of its kind beach club that offers an exclusive, adults only setting at the top of the ship; Halo, the Über Bar, a private bar and lounge in the ship-within-a-ship villa complex; Bliss Ultra Lounge, NCL’s all day entertainment and nightclub complex with a four-lane bowling alley; and Spice H2O, and adults-only aft pool deck experience.

    In addition, the ship will feature the New Wave standard, New Wave balcony and New Wave deluxe staterooms that represent a giant leap forward in cruise ship accommodation with a completely fresh take on bathroom design, contemporary curved architecture and open living space.

    The New Wave stateroom’s most distinctive design element is its curved walls and lines creating a modern and chic experience. NCL has maximised the living space with a bathroom that is completely unique with a separate shower stall, separate water closet and a modern vanity top sink. The staterooms feature a sophisticated earth-tone palette accented with a splash of colour and rich, dark-wood. Concealed contour LED lighting and back-lit domed ceilings set a relaxing vibe.

    “The F3 experience will take our already successful Freestyle Cruising to the next level, affording our guests the ultimate freedom and flexibility. Norwegian Epic, denoting a ship that is very impressive on a grand scale, is the most fitting name,” said Kevin Sheehan, NCL’s president and CEO.

    “The combination of the ship’s exciting new features, along with the tropical allure of these Caribbean destinations, will provide an extraordinary cruise vacation for our guests.”

    In December 2008 NCL announced that it had reached agreement with STX Europe, the builder of the F3 ship project, in which one new F3 vessel, now named Norwegian Epic, would be built instead of two as originally planned. The agreement forestalled any possibility of the F3 project being cancelled.

    Cruise ships to the rescue

    The German cruise ship BREMEN was in what might have been thought to be the worst possible place for a member of the crew to be seriously injured – in the Far South on an Antarctic cruise.

    But modern communications being what they are, and modern air and sea rescues being so highly coordinated and capable, meant that a crew member with a badly injured hand could be plucked from the heaving deck of the Hapag Lloyd ship in a relatively short space of time despite sea swells of between 5 and 6 metres.

    The accident took place with the ship a long distance from New Zealand’s South Island. The Bremen immediately turned towards New Zealand while calling for assistance and after a dash back along her tracks the ship rendezvoused with a rescue helicopter flying out of Otago, which had flown a record 815km to meet with the ship.

    The injured man was airlifted to hospital where his condition was reported to be satisfactory.

    Much further to the north and eastwards, the US Coastguard was involved in the rescue of two passengers on board the NORWEGIAN STAR. The ship was about 200 n.miles south of San Diego when a rescue helicopter was requested to medivac a passenger who had been injured. While en route to the ship the helicopter crew received news that a second passenger was ill and also needed hospitalisation ashore. Both were taken to a hospital in the Californian coastal city.

    About a week earlier it had been the turn of the Norwegian Star to go to the aid of a sailor on board a yacht off the coast of Mexico. Under the Amver agreement held between the ship and the US Coastguard, the coastguard was able to call upon Norwegian Star as the nearest ship to go to the aid of the yacht, which was successfully accomplished.

    SAGA expands river cruising for 2009

    Saga Holidays, a leading travel company that caters specifically for the over 50s, has introduced seven new river cruises along the Seine, Elbe, Rhine and Danube to its 2009 programme - many of them exclusive to their customers, with a greater choice of single cabins than ever before at no extra cost. And with travel insurance and a UK travel service providing free rail or coach travel included in the price, these cruises give exceptional value.

    The medieval cities and rolling countryside of central Europe have been long-time favourites for river-cruising holidays where the emphasis has been leisure and relaxation.

    Saga’s exclusive itineraries have been carefully designed to reveal some of Europe’s mysterious and exotic regions, where fishermen tell tales (where don’t they) and winding rivers unveil stunning beauty only seen from the side of a ship. Saga passengers will enjoy lazy hazy days along the majestic Middle Rhine and the famous Danube, discovering pretty Dutch canals and romantic French rivers, and take in the stunning scenery and wine towns of the Moselle.

    Among the new itineraries for 2009 which are exclusive to Saga passengers are:

    The Medieval Rhine and Main - aboard AMADEUS RHAPSODY – 12 and 20 June and 23 September 2009.

    An inspiring journey through the middle Rhine - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - boasting a remarkable wealth of historic cities, medieval towns and ancient castles.

    Highlights of this cruise include: Bamberg, Wurzburg, Cologne, the medieval legacies of Wertheim and Miltenberg, and Siegfried’s Museum of Mechanical Music.

    Fares for these cruises of 7 nights are from £1049 per person based on two people sharing. Flights from Heathrow to Munich, returning from Amsterdam with British Airways (23 September flights from Heathrow to Amsterdam, returning from Munich).

    A second exclusive to Saga itinerary is Vienna and the Wachau Valley - aboard Amadeus Rhapsody - (5 and 13 June and 30 September 2009).

    Cruising through the glorious Wachau Valley is a must-do and combines popular highlights including the spectacular scenery of the UNESCO-protected Wachau region, the medieval legacies of Durnstein, Regensburg and Roth; and the historic monastery of Weltenburg.

    Fares for this cruise: 7 nights from £949 per person based on two people sharing. Flights from Heathrow to Vienna, returning from Munich with British Airways, (30 September flights from Heathrow to Munich, returning from Vienna).

    There are a number of other cruises for 2009 that are not exclusive to Saga, including a 15-night Blue Danube cruise aboard the AMADEUS ROYAL from 21 September, visiting seven countries and endless beauty including Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. Fares rate from £1949 per person based on two people sharing with return flights from Heathrow to Vienna with British Airways.

    Other non-exclusive cruises include a 7-night journey through Flanders on board the MS PRINCESS starting 10 October, and impressions of Paris and the Seine aboard the MV CEZANNE during May and September 2009, ranging from £ 1199 for seven nights.

    More detailed information can be obtained from the Saga website at

    Follow SAGA RUBY round Africa

    While on the subject of Saga Holidays, the really lovely SAGA RUBY is presently voyaging around South Africa having arrived in Cape Town yesterday. From the Mother City she will sail along the South Africa coast calling at the respective ports and will be in Durban on 3 February.

    For those of us unfortunate enough not to be travelling on her, the Saga website carries an informative and entertaining blog on the voyage which can be accessed HERE

    Although not kept exactly up to date it makes for an interesting read.

    SAGA RUBY’s twin sister SAGA ROSE with the Durban Bluff in the background. Picture Terry Hutson

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