Ports & Ships Cruise News

Feb 27, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson

  • Now’s the time to book that cruise

  • Ushuaia now the leading cruise port in South America

  • Extra early cruise for CELEBRITY EQUINOX

  • BOUDICCA to operate more regional cruises in 2010

  • Fly me to the moon – on board the BLACK WATCH

  • SS France artefacts fetch record prices


    Now’s the time to book that cruise

    It could be that these troubled economic times are about to become the best time to make that long promised cruise.

    Faced with depleting passenger numbers some cruise lines have already reacted with fancy special offers, including huge discounts to keep their ships full and abuzz. In the luxury sector Seabourn, for example, has begun promoting its European cruises during 2009 at whopping discount rates of between 50 and 65% off. Cruises in the Mediterranean can now be booked at 60% off normal fare while those in northern Europe operating to Baltic destinations – Sweden and Russia and up into Norway and the lovely fjords - can get you as much as 65% off.

    Seven-day cruises with Seabourn in the Mediterranean can be found for as little as $2,999, visiting the Cote d’Azur and the Spanish Isles, or cruises round Italy from Venice to Rome (Civitavecchia) or a seven day cruise from Barcelona along the yachtsman’s Riviera to Monte Carlo, and several others.

    If northern Europe is what takes your fancy this year then 9-day cruises are up for grabs from as little as $3,999, which reflects a discount of over 50%. Longer cruises of 11, 12 and 14 days will take you among the Norwegian fjords, or to Scandinavia and Russia and are on offer from $4,999 upwards. Considering the standard of ships involved, these look like good value.

    Not to be outdone, Silversea has also announced attractive discounts of up to 50% aimed at getting people to cruise with them despite all the gloom and doom of the boardroom. These apply to worldwide sailings across 7 to 22 day destinations while past guests of Silversea can look for an additional 5 - 10% on special Venetian Society sailings.

    Silversea of course has the added challenge of a new ship, the SILVER SPIRIT coming into service in December, which means another 540 guests to entice.

    Not all lines are following the same tactic and have employed other marketing ploys to keep their ship occupied and profitable. If the recession (that word that no-one, especially in South Africa wants us to mention) continues for a lengthy period, then expect lots more cruising bargains to come on the market, but also one or two casualties among the shipping companies as well, so don’t forget to take out insurance when making that booking.

    Ushuaia now the leading cruise port in South America

    the pretty town of Ushuaia. picture by Creative Commons/Jerzy Strzelecki

    Ten years ago if you read of a place named Ushuaia you would have been excused for asking where or what it was. Today, it has become one of the Southern Hemisphere’s top destinations for cruise tourists, as well as having the distinction of being Argentina’s most southernmost city.

    According to a report in the Latin American Herald Tribune, there are no less than 396 cruises scheduled for Ushuaia in 2009, involving ships in the range from 80 passengers to more than 3,000.

    Apart from being a delightful little city or town, with colourful houses and buildings set against a backdrop of mountains in an otherwise inhospitable and isolated corner of South America some 3,000km south of Buenos Aires, what makes Ushuaia so special and unique is that this is the starting point for cruises to the Antarctic.

    The cruise ‘season’ extends from November until the end of April, corresponding to the Southern Hemisphere summer when a window of opportunity to visit the waters off the Antarctic peninsular and Antarctic islands opens. Ships varying in size from icebreakers converted for the carrying of adventure-seeking cruise tourists, to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s 138,000-gt MARINER OF THE SEAS with up to 3,800 passengers will have visited the town before the end of April, swamping Ushuaia with dollar spending tourists of the like that the town’s forefathers could ever have imagined or dreamed.

    Not that the town’s forefathers had much interest in the place – Ushuaia started off as a penal colony, where prisoners were sent to work off their years of punishment cutting timber in the forests and learning to regret their misdeeds.

    By comparison with Ushuaia, Argentina’s most famous city and port, Buenos Aires will have received 124 cruise ship visits during the same period.

    Ushuaia is the capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province overlooking the Beagle Channel and has a population today of about 65,000. Developed originally as a prison town in a setting that is about as far away from ‘civilisation’ as can be possible, the town first became a tourist destination of sorts thanks to a railway that delivered back-packing adventurers further south than any other railway.

    Now, apart from its attractions as a starting point for cruise ships, Ushuaia enjoys a regular airline service from Buenos Aires and has also become a well-used staging point for flights into the Antarctic continent. The railway still goes there.

    Celebrity’s ZENITH and Orient Line’s MARCO POLO at Ushuaia. Picture by Creative Commons/Christina Lynn Johnson

    Extra early cruise for CELEBRITY EQUINOX

    Construction of the second of the Solstice class cruise ships is proceeding so well that Celebrity has been able to add another voyage ahead of its announced ‘maiden voyage’ on 8 August 2009.

    That’s the date when the second of these mega ships, the CELEBRITY EQUINOX makes her official launch with passengers on board but now, thanks to work proceeding ahead of schedule at the Papenburg shipyards of Meyer Werft, another ‘ launch’ is possible.

    Calling the additional early cruise a ‘soft launch’ Celebrity intends sending the ship on her maiden voyage minus one to the Norwegian fjords on a round trip from her homeport of Southampton in the UK, departing on 31 July. Celebrity insists this will not be the maiden voyage, which rather defies logic, but then who wants to argue with the marketing gurus. For those passengers who booked on the official maiden cruise scheduled for 8 August, Celebrity is offering a pairing of cruises by combining the 8-night ‘soft’ launch with their already booked 10-night ‘Best of Europe’ maiden cruise, making this a special 18-night cruise in all (and afterwards no-one can argue whether you did the real maiden cruise or not).

    Anyone taking advantage of this opportunity will receive an onboard credit of $200 per stateroom or $300 per suite.

    The new 8-night ‘soft cruise’ takes in visits to Stavanger, Flam, Geiranger and Oslo. If you are on the official 10-night ‘Best of Europe’ cruise you will visit Paris and Normandy via the French ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg, Spanish ports of Vigo, Cartagena and Barcelona, Lisbon in Portugal and Gibraltar, with the final destination being Civitavecchia for Rome. The cruise will commence with all the usual commemorative activities of a maiden voyage and guests will receive gifts to remind them of their experience.

    Carrying up to 2,850 passengers the new class of Celebrity ships have so far impressed passengers who have enjoyed cruises on the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, which features several categories of accommodations including Celebrity’s new AquaClass staterooms, complete with guest’s very own spa. And for those who long for the feel of it, there’s half an acre of real grass up top to sink your toes amongst.

    BOUDICCA to operate more regional cruises in 2010

    Fred Olsen’s Boudicca, set to take up the mantle of cruises operated by the Black Prince

    With the retirement of BLACK PRINCE in October 2009, the ship of the Fred Olsen fleet that operated from northern ports such as Liverpool and Greenock, the BOUDICCA is scheduled to operate from more regional (UK) ports in 2010, Fred Olsen has announced.

    Boudicca will reposition from Southampton to Liverpool in March 2010 and operate a season of cruises to the Canaries, Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Norway and the Baltic before moving to her next home port – Greenock – in June. Her summer cruises from Greenock visit the Canary Islands, Italy, Norway, and Spitsbergen, after which she repositions again to Leith in late July.

    After two cruises, to the Baltic and Norway, Boudicca moves south to the Port of Tyne in September and from there she cruises to the North Cape, Scandinavia, the Baltic, Norway and around the UK, returning to Southampton in October.

    “We have always been very committed to operating ex-UK cruises from a wide choice of regional ports, and with Black Prince retiring, we did not want to lose our ex-Liverpool and Greenock programmes,” said Lol Nichols, Fred Olsen’s general sales manager.

    “By utilising Boudicca from these ports – as well as Leith and Newcastle, where she has already operated successfully – we can maintain these important and very popular departures. The extra capacity of Boudicca – 839 passengers compared to Black Prince’s 412 – means that even with fewer sailings, we can still accommodate a large number of customers from these northern regions.”

    Fly me to the moon, on board the BLACK WATCH

    Speaking of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, the company is offering an opportunity for a group of passengers to cruise with two famous names from the world of space and maritime exploration.

    The BLACK WATCH cruise (voyage BW0903) sailing from Dover on 18th April for a 13-night cruise to the Canary Islands and North Africa, will have Walter Cunningham, the NASA astronaut, and Dr Robert Cartwright, noted marine historian, as guest lecturers on board to entertain and mingle with passengers.

    Part of Fred Olsen’s Civilisations package, these two famous names will give lectures and escort tours exclusively for those passengers who have pre-booked this ‘Ages of Discovery’ add-on package to their cruise, at an additional cost of £349 per person. The cruise will first visit Leixoes (Oporto), Agadir, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Gomera and Madeira, before returning to Dover.

    The Iberian region and Canary Islands have been the springboard for many voyages of discovery through the ages; for instance, Christopher Colombus sailed from Portugal to cross the Atlantic and his last landfall before the New World was La Gomera in the Canaries, while the ancient Pyramids of Guimar in the Canaries have been found to have links with similar structures in the Middle East and South America.

    Included in the lecture programme will be a special viewing of the award-winning film “In the Shadow of the Moon”, a documentary about the Apollo moon missions – a subject dear to Walter Cunningham who was Command Pilot of Apollo 7, the first manned spacecraft in the Apollo programme.

    Prices for this cruise currently start at £938 per passenger (in an inside twin bed cabin) which includes all port taxes, food and entertainment on board. The Civilisations package, with access to the guest lecturers and exclusive tours, is available for an additional cost of £349 per person and must be booked when booking the cruise. Passengers who wish to enjoy the lectures without going on the excursions can do so for £179 per person.

    SS France artefacts fetch record prices

    Remember the story of the auction of memorabilia off the former SS FRANCE, aka NORWAY, aka Blue Lady? We told the story HERE.

    Well, two auctions were held in Paris, on Sunday 8 and Monday 9 February, and from all accounts many records and expectations were broken as fans queued up, with their credit cards at the ready, to buy up a piece of the Grand Old Lady of France.

    Top price went for the massive chunk of steel off the ship’s bow, her nose as it was delicately dubbed. This was too large to display inside the auction room and was placed on display outside where it drew curious or admiring looks from passerbys who could wonder or admire what it was.

    On the day this item sold for €273,000 – a French property developer snapped up the chunk no doubt to place outside one of his equally expensive properties.

    Altogether the auction, which was made up of about 500 items of artefacts from the ship, once the world’s longest and certainly one of the most elegant and attractive, realised an impressive €1,186,000 – now who says memories are cheap!

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