Ports & Ships Cruise News

Mar 13, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson

  • Never a better time to take a cruise – offers too good to resist

  • Pirates of the Zanj

  • Mutiny on the Europa

  • Will a discount sort out our differences, sir?

  • Taking a break before and after your cruise

  • Prince Albert II a hit in the Antarctic

  • For some cruise ships it means goodbye as SOLAS 2010 approaches


    Never a better time to take a cruise – offers too good to resist

    One of the smaller cruise ships to visit our shores, EXPLORER was in Cape Town this month. Picture by Ian Shiffman

    Continuing with our theme first discussed a couple of weeks ago in these columns, ‘Now’s the time to book that cruise’ the American Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) recently issued the following article, which is repeated here in full.

    Fort Lauderdale — Even in the best of times, cruises represent outstanding value; in fact, consumer and travel agent surveys consistently cite value for money spent as the number one reason to take a cruise. Today, when budgets are tight, value is even more important. Factor in the money-saving offers currently available from the member lines of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and there is only one conclusion to be made: there has never been a better time to take a cruise vacation.

    Cruise value begins with inclusive cruise pricing that typically covers accommodations, meals, entertainment, use of many of the ship’s recreational facilities and travel from destination to destination – sometimes as many as six during a one week cruise. Whatever else the traveller spends is optional and easily budgeted for in advance. But other factors also contribute to the value of a cruise.

    Cruise vacations are available in every length, on ships of every size, in every part of the world – and in every price category. Cruise passengers pack and unpack once during their vacation and have no worries about catching planes and trains, or finding the right hotels or restaurants, or the need to communicate in languages they do not understand. The value of ease and comfort of travel may not be easily quantifiable but for many travellers it ranks right up there with price.

    What all this adds up to is that there is a cruise for every budget, taste, interest and time schedule. And, with almost 30 ports of embarkation in the US, millions of travellers can even drive to their ship, thus saving the cost and inconvenience of flying.

    These are some of the reasons why a cruise adds up to great value. Now, there are more: CLIA member cruise lines have just announced special recession-busting offers that make cruising truly irresistible. Here is a sampling:

    AMAWATERWAYS: Free airfare from the US for nine European river cruise departures during April.

    American Cruise Lines: An Early Bird savings program offers $400 per stateroom when reservations made three months in advance.

    Azamara Cruises: Low fares and 50% reduction in deposits.

    Carnival Cruise Lines: An Early Saver program offering as much as 25% off on bookings made up to three months prior to sailing for cruises of five days or less and up to five months prior to longer sailings, including rate protection in case rates later drop further.

    Celebrity Cruises: Low fares and 50% reduction in deposits.

    Costa Cruises: Free upgrades, up to $200 onboard credits per cabin, Kids Sail Free specials and 60% savings on Europe 2009 sailings with its "So Much More Amore" promotion.

    Crystal Cruises: Up to $1,500 in savings on Mediterranean and Baltic cruises and up to 50% off on “Value Collection” cruise departures; in addition, guests who book most 2009 voyages by 31 March receive 20% off most sailings in 2010. Crystal also offers free one-way airfare for spring Panama Canal cruises, free air upgrades with most Europe cruises, and a “Crystal Family Memories Program” featuring one complimentary berth for every 10 full-fare berths. The line also features deposit reductions, relaxing of cancellation policies, and further savings on bookings 180 days in advance.

    Cunard Line: Transatlantic Crossings on Queen Mary 2 start at $795 per person, double occupancy. In addition, starting with Queen Mary 2's 26 April Transatlantic voyage, guests can book a Queens Grill suite for the price of a Princess Grill suite when travelling on a six-day Crossing (subject to availability). Fares start from $3,545.00 per person, based on double occupancy.

    Disney Cruise Line: Guests 12 and under sail free on most three-night voyages aboard the Disney Wonder from 12 March through 28 May 2009.

    Holland America Line: A Vacation Stimulus Plan featuring low fares, 50% reduction on deposits and cruise tours; and 25% savings on the standard cancellation protection plan.

    Hurtigruten: Two for one pricing on selected voyages, free upgrades, senior discounts, and a layaway payment plan.

    MSC Cruises: Kids 17 and under sail free on all MSC Cruises when sharing a cabin with two full-fare adults; A “Suite Deal” features savings of almost 50% on selected MSC Lirica 10-night Caribbean itineraries; savings of up to 50% for Baby Boomers and seniors on Caribbean sailings; “Senior Saver” rates of more than 60% off for European itineraries; and free balcony upgrades on selected European cruises.

    Oceania Cruises: A 5th Anniversary Celebration of Savings features up to 72% off on selected 2009 European and 2010 Winter Season voyages as well as price reductions, shipboard credits, free air, two-for-one cruises and free prepaid gratuities on selected 2009-2010 winter cruises. Other savings include 25% single supplements and 50% reductions for third and fourth passengers in a cabin.

    Princess Cruises: “Balcony Bonanza” offers a balcony for the price of an oceanview stateroom – representing a savings of up to $1,200 per cabin. The Balcony Bonanza promotion applies to bookings made on most 2009 summer sailings to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean.

    Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Ultra-Inclusive voyages featuring free air, two for one fares and free shore excursions.

    Royal Caribbean International: $200 onboard credit for Alaska cruise tours, $300 onboard credit for Europe cruise tours, low fares, and 50 percent reduction in deposits.

    Seabourn Cruise Line: “Inaugural Celebration Savings” of $1,000 per suite on top of early booking savings of up to 50% on all seven-day Mediterranean cruises in 2009; “Inaugural Celebration Savings” of $1,500 per suite plus early booking savings of up to 45% on northern Europe/Scandinavia cruises; and a “Between Friends” savings of $1,500 in shore arrangements per couple for guests who book three suites.

    SeaDream Yacht Club: A “Cancel for any Reason” policy with no cancellation fees.

    Silversea Cruises: For 2009, there is an early booking incentive featuring discounts of up to 30%, plus an additional 5% in Advance Payment Bonus for those who pay in full six months prior to sailing; For 2010 voyages the early booking incentive climbs to as much as 35%, with an additional 15% for payments made one year prior to sailing.

    Windstar Cruises: 50% reduction in cruise deposits on all new bookings for 2009 sailings; up to 50% savings on selected 2009 European sailings; and a family offer featuring a 50% reduction on the purchase of a second cabin.

    Pirates of the Zanj

    Cruise ships have come in for something of a bad press in the last week or so. From passengers falling off, or rather being blown off gangways to novo virus outbreaks and piracy and mutiny on the high seas, one might be tempted to think that cruising has become a hazardous occupation. However, don’t let headlines fool you, it’s not all that bad although all these incidents happened over the past couple of weeks.

    Turning to piracy on the open ocean to begin with, it happened off the coast of Somalia – where else – and has involved several ships transiting between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Why they didn’t come round via the Cape as all sensible container lines, tankers companies, tug boats and other ships are learning to do in ever increasing numbers we will never know.

    The latest case involved MSC Cruises RHAPSODY, which has just completed her final South African summer season in Cape and KwaZulu Natal waters and is on her re-positioning voyage back to Genoa, prior to her transfer to new owners in Israel. Aware of problems with piracy around the Horn of Africa MSC Cruises has opted to alter her itinerary to avoid as much as possible the hot spots and will instead take a more circuitous route past Somalia. This will probably mean the ship will rendezvous at some point with other vessels and travel a section in convoy and under armed escort of a warship from the international forces operating in the area.

    According to MSC Cruises the altered route will add some 500 sea miles to the journey, with missed calls at Sokhna and Safaga in Egypt to compensate for the additional time – these are highlights of the cruise as they are gateways to Egypt’s antiquities. The Rhapsody will however make a call at the resort town of Sharm El Sheik.

    MSC RHAPSODY sailed from Durban one last time on 3 March bound for Genoa. The ship had completed a season of cruising out of Durban and Cape Town in conjunction with a second MSC ship, MELODY, and is currently on her way back to the Mediterranean.
    Picture Copyright Shiphoto International

    Rhapsody’s sudden change in itinerary came shortly after Fred Olsen’s BALMORAL was again in the news – this lovely ship is getting plenty of unfortunate press lately what with horrendous storms in the Bay of Biscay to outbreaks of novo virus. In the latest episode Balmoral had a pirate scare in the Gulf of Aden, although her owners and operators, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines have done their utmost to play things down.

    The company denied categorically that Balmoral ever came under attack. What seems to have happened is that on 3 March while sailing through the Gulf of Aden the ship passed a number of fishing boats. In the early evening two small boats appeared from among the fishing craft and headed for the cruise ship. This is a typical pirate mode of attack.

    “As a purely precautionary action, the ship’s master implemented aggressive manoeuvring, contact was made with the EU Coalition Task Force, and passengers were requested to assemble in safe havens,” says Fred Olsen in a media release. “At 20h45 hrs that evening the EU warship confirmed that the area around the vessel was clear, and the alert was stood down at 21h23 hrs. This was a ‘suspicious incident’ and not an ‘attack’.”

    Ya, well no fine – tell that to the passengers who had to assemble in a ‘safe area’, probably in ignorance of what was going on outside. On the other hand in retrospect it may have provided the highlight of their cruise. Just think of it, for years they will have a real life adventure to tell their buddies down at the village pub, of how they fought off swashbuckling pirates and with every retelling the story becoming slightly more explicit. One of those concocted so-called 6-Star luxury ‘adventure’ cruises, where the only discomfort is having to mop your brow from the sweat while out on the open deck, can never hold a patch on the real thing these people went through!

    Fred Olsen adds to its report that searchlights and flares were used to advise the approaching boats that they were under observation, and that it is possible that the noise caused when the flares were fired was interpreted by passengers as gunfire. The company adds that at no stage did the approaching boats come closer than 400m of the ship.

    “The Master of Balmoral has reported that the mood on board was good throughout with no panic or adverse reaction from the passengers. The vessel is now continuing on its scheduled itinerary and is today in the port of Salalah in Oman,” said Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.

    As for the case of the passenger who fell off the gangway it happened when the MSC FANTASIA was visiting Palma de Majorca in the supposedly tranquil Mediterranean. Strong winds caused the gangway to collapse – according to MSC Cruises high winds led to three quayside mooring bitts to become detached simultaneously, causing Fantasia to move away from the quayside and an 80-year old guest who was on the gangway found himself falling 15 metres into the water.

    Quick action by crew members from the Fantasia brought the man ashore and he was later transferred to hospital for observation.

    Now who said that cruising was a relaxing holiday?

    Mutiny on the Europa

    COSTA EUROPA – not always happy sailing lately. Picture by Oldany.it/Flikr

    Passengers on board Costa Cruises’ COSTA EUROPA (53,872-gt, built 1986), now operating a series of cruises in the Indian Ocean out of Port Louis in Mauritius, held a sit-in protest on board to inform the ship’s captain that they were dissatisfied with how their cruise was turning out.

    The sit-in took place on the last day of February as the ship neared the end of her cruise, dubbed by the marketing department as the “Jewels of the Indian Ocean’ cruise. Passengers demanded answers from the ship’s captain and told him that his offer of a €600 discount on a future Costa cruise was not fair compensation for having been on a cruise that did not live up to its advertised itinerary.

    Ship officials later increased the offer with a further €300 on-board credit, which passengers accepted on what they termed an ‘interim payment’ pending further claims for compensation. They complained of the ship being delayed in Mombasa for engine repairs and said the cruise was completed at an erratic speed with the ship belching black smoke which indicated that something was still wrong with the starboard engine. Only three out of seven planned port visits were made.

    One passenger from the UK said the sit-in had been acrimonious and that he thought it might end with passengers and crew coming to blows. Passengers said they were determined never to cruise with Costa again and that to have an offer of a discount on future cruises was ludicrous.

    A blog has been set up at http://costafailure.blogspot.com/ where passengers have aired their grievances, as well as giving some praise.

    Will a discount sort out our differences, sir?

    The cruise industry is hoping British stoicism and keen prices will prevent a bookings backlash from would-be cruisers put off by the recent spate of headline-grabbing incidents, says a British online cruise publication, travelweekly.co.uk

    The article quotes some of the incidents described above, including the pirate scare, the Costa Europa cruise that went sour and the elderly passenger who fell from a gangway 15 metres into the water. It also cites other cases such as the piracy scare involving the cruise ship NAUTICA last November, but suggests that these incidents would not put the average British holidaymaker off taking a cruise.

    The article quotes Oceania Cruises sales and marketing director Bernie Carter as saying the incidents are disturbing, but agents should emphasise to clients that they are rare. Oceania Cruises are the operators of the Nautica, so they probably know at first hand what publicity can do to a reputation.

    “Events like this cause a bit of adverse publicity but there are a multitude of cruise choices out there and clients should not be put off by headlines,” Carter said, adding with that typically British stiff-upper lip approach, “A combination of the British mentality and good value prices mean customers will still travel.”

    Travelweekly approached other cruise operators for an opinion - “We have never had any calls from worried clients, but if we did we would reassure them that cruising is the safest way to travel; that passenger safety is paramount for cruiselines,” said Cruise Village managing director Phil Nuttall, who added that, “The British never seem to worry. They are going on holiday and assume everything will be OK.”

    According to Passenger Shipping Association director Bill Gibbons, “From time to time, as within all travel industries, there will be isolated incidents but cruise companies work exceptionally hard at dealing effectively with these issues. Security and safety are the industry's highest priorities and these are guided by a network of internationally approved standards.”

    Taking a break before and after your cruise

    The Yachts of Seabourn’s Destination Services Department has created more than 100 local activities and excursions to accommodate couples or small groups who opt for bundled “Sail & Stay” packages or stays at luxury hotels in cities before or after their cruises.

    Among the arrangements available are a bicycle tour of Copenhagen’s art and design scene, a day cruising the islands of the Venice Lagoon on a private speedboat, a visit to the villa of the late J Paul Getty near Rome for a cooking class and lunch, a day trekking or horseback riding from a luxury lodge in the Central Andes above Valparaiso, and a Champagne feast and display of traditional Bedouin falconry in the desert outside Dubai.

    “Seabourn’s guests prefer more personalised, unique experiences in our ports of call,” said Pamela Conover, Seabourn’s president and CEO.

    “And they want to have authentic, insider experiences when they stay in Istanbul or Buenos Aires or Venice before or after their cruises, too. Guests can either choose from these exceptional experiences or dream up their own perfect day and our staff can arrange it.”

    For more information, visit www.seabourn.com.

    Prince Albert II a hit in the Antarctic

    Prince Albert II in Monte Carlo for her naming ceremony, June 2008

    Silversea Cruises new expedition class ship, PRINCE ALBERT ii, named in June last year in Monte Carlo in honour of Monaco’s head of state, has recently completed a first season of sailing in the Antarctic and along the southernmost regions of the South American continent.

    In addition to providing the expected standard of ultra luxury that Silversea has become noted for along with its other ships, SILVER WIND, SILVER CLOUD, SILVER SHADOW and SILVER WHISPER, Prince Albert II has succeeded in attracting a fair number of younger passengers including families to its inaugural cruise to the Antarctic.

    The ship visited the usual haunts of craggy Chilean fjords and the spectacular scenery and wildlife of the Antarctic region but unlike many other cruises the itinerary allowed the ship to dally in areas deemed to be of added interest to passengers, or made detours whenever weather or even curiousity suggested a change in scenery.

    Prince Albert II returns to the Antarctic on 1 November this year when she makes an 11-night cruise from Santiago in Chile, ending at Ushuaia in Argentina and visiting the best of the Chilean fjords along the way. Cruises are on offer from the region of US$3,300 per person in double occupancy, which is a 50% saving on normal fares, although port and fuel charges and taxes are additional and may add a fare whack to your final bill.

    For some cruise ships it means goodbye as SOLAS 2010 approaches

    Maxim Gorkiy on an earlier visit to Durban - picture Terry Hutson

    The cost of converting a cruise ship to meet the requirements of SOLAS 2010 rules is proving to be simply too much and as a result many famous old ships are about to be or have already been taken out of service.

    The process is already underway and a number of cruise ships have found their way to the breakers yard ahead of the deadline next year, as international shipping rules tighten up on safety features and more stringent policing.

    In 2005 all passenger ships had to be fitted with sprinkler systems (one shudders to think that before this it wasn’t deemed necessary). Next in line to the original SOLAS amendment is the requirement that aims at further enhancing fire protection, detection and extinction requirements on all passenger ships, with the net result that for many ships the cost on converting and installing the necessary systems, and ripping out old building materials, will exceed the value of the ship.

    SOLAS 2010 calls for the eradication of all combustible materials in the construction of a passenger ship and it is estimated that of roughly 30 ships built between 1960 and 1970 and still in operation most will contain significant amounts of combustible material so as to not qualify for SOLAS 2010 requirements.

    Ship building experts estimate that to convert an average ship, if there is such an average, would cost in the region of between €5 and €20 million, which in most cases exceeds the value of the vessel. Hence one sees ships from the extremes of QE2 to Maxim Gorkiy along with several others being withdrawn and converted into static hotel ships, or rendered into scrap metal and spare parts on the beaches of India and Bangladesh.

    Contact your local travel agent for further details of the above and other cruises available.

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