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A long time ago I did a detailed post about the different sizes of the balconies on Ventura and Azura. it’s still one of my most popular posts – every day, between 10% and 20% of the page hits I get is for that one post. Here’s a link to it.

Here’s an additional post that includes an image file that explains how the balconies along the sides of these ships can differ so much. It’s taken from an accident investigation report into a fire on board the Star Princess in March 2006 – the report (by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch, MAIB) was published in October that year. It included the attached graphic (the text in red has been added for the purposes of this post). Star Princess was the third of the original three ships in the Grand Princess class (Grand Princess & Golden Princess being the other, slightly earlier, two). There are differences between Star Princess and Ventura/Azura, among which were the huge ‘shopping trolley handle’ across the stern of the ship at deck 15 or 16 level, and also the fact that the early ships had one deck less – they had no Riviera deck, So A deck came immediately underneath the Lido deck deck, as shown in the attached image.

The image shows that the cabins on A, B & C deck are directly below each other – that is, cabins on B deck are directly below those on A deck, and cabins on C deck are directly below those on B deck. The balconies on A & B decks – and also on Riviera deck on Azura & Ventura – are made of aluminium and are, in layman’s terms, ‘bolted on’ to the outside of the cabins. (I’m sure they’re attached more firmly than that, but you get the picture.) Certainly there’s just fresh air beneath these balconies. The balcony structure on C deck is different, however. It’s not a bolt-on; it’s actually the roof of the larger Deluxe Balcony cabin on D deck, the deck below. Because these cabins are larger they ‘stick out’ further, so the C deck cabins on the deck above can make use of the D deck cabin extension for a larger balcony.

And indeed they are – the depth of a C deck balcony is 2.95m instead of 1.5m for A & B decks, so effectively double the depth. The cabins are the same, of course – balcony cabins on both B & C decks are graded HA (mid-ships), HB (either side of that), HD (aft) and HE (forward). P&O have clearly taken the policy of not charging extra for the extra balcony space or of classifying the C deck cabins into a higher grade.

Finally, I actually have a feeling that the diagram is wrong for D deck balconies! – I believe that these balconies are in fact 2m in depth, therefore somewhere between the depth of A & B decks and C deck.

Finally, here’s my well-known picture of Val, my wife, enjoying the space on a C deck balcony on Ventura!

Val enjoying a C-deck balcony (actually on Ventura)

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Cruise Insurance

There are often questions as to whether or not ‘normal’ travel insurance covers you when you’re on a cruise, and whether that gives cover for extras. Obviously each different insurance policy can be different; but  I’ve just been able to check my Staysure Annual Multi-trip Comprehensive policy wording, and this is what I’ve found:

a) when taking out the policy you have to include cruise cover, and this has to appear on the Validation document, if you’re going on a cruise. If you don’t do this they explicitly say (in the general policy introductory section) that “Cruise trips are not covered under this policy unless you have selected this option and paid the additional premium… ‘Cruise: Covered’ must appear on your Validation certificate”;

b) However, although this does cost a bit extra, it just extends the normal cover to when you’re on a cruise. The reason for requiring the extra payment to extend the policy to include cruises is that the potential costs to the insurance company in the event of a claim can be very high. For example, if you’re taken ill on a cruise while at sea, and the medical centre thinks you need to be evacuated, then that’s a helicopter job plus perhaps also requiring the ship to divert to meet the helicopter, and that’s really, really high cost. Hence the requirement for an extra payment;

c) in addition there’s the voluntary “Cruise Plus” add-on – this will cover you for missed ports, cabin confinement, etc. This is another extra cost, of course.

Our choice is to add the basic cruise cover (obviously) but to not bother with the Cruise Plus add-on.

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I’ve heard some more about the tendering problems at Monaco on Sunday. (Just to recap, tendering had to be stopped during the afternoon due to a high swell, which was causing great difficulties at Ventura’s platform.)

  • I’ve heard that the weather changed very quickly and dramatically in the middle of the day. I’ve seen a comment that when Ventura anchored the sea was as ‘flat as a mill pond’;
  • when tendering was stopped, there were still between 1300 and 1700 passengers ashore in Monaco. P&O made great efforts to get transport for them, so that they could be taken round to Villefranche where tendering would resume;
  • but some people made their own way there, either by train or public bus;
  • and passenger recovery at Villefranche went on into the evening.

If I learn anything else about this event I’ll post another update.

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Monaco harbour and Ventura, 2013

Something I read about on the P&O Facebook group was that there were significant tendering problems at Monaco on Sunday. This was during Ventura’s call there as a part of cruise N914. Monaco is almost always a tender port, certainly for the larger ships, and it’s not unusual for calls there to be diverted or cancelled because of the sea conditions.

Apparently the problems, which were caused by the swell, only arose later in the day when it came to take passengers back to the ship. It was of course the off-loading at the ship that caused the problems: whereas a large swell doesn’t really affect the ship, having a tender bobbing up and down a couple of metres (or more) inevitably slows down the rate at which passengers can be brought safely back onto the platform. So apparently passengers were spending long periods in the tender waiting to unload, and during unloading. A lot of passengers were quite frightened – the tenders were banging against the hull, it was difficult to get off them, and they were so rocky and bouncy that a number of passengers were ill. All in all, it seems to have been a bad experience.

I understand that in the end it got so bad that tendering from Monaco was stopped and the remaining passengers still ashore were bussed round the coast to Villefranche. Villefranche is generally regarded as being more sheltered – there’s a long bay with deep water (the US 6th Fleet use it as a safe anchorage). Ventura sailed round and the passengers were tendered back from there. However, I don’t know how long it all took – I read a report that passengers were still being tendered aboard at 8:30 pm.

Looking at Marine Traffic I see that Ventura made it to Ajaccio (generally a docking port) yesterday (Monday) and is in Barcelona (always a docking port) today.

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I’ve dug up some further information about the recent accident in Venice, and also some suggestions as to why nothing has happened about this issue over the last two years.

First, it does now appear that the ship, MSC Opera, suffered some failure of the engine management system as a result of which it was not possible to control the engines. Unfortunately at the time the engines were stuck in the ‘On’ position, or became stuck in it, and this resulted in the crash. There is also a report about the actions that were taken by the ship and the tugs. There’s a suggestions that two anchors were lowered, though it’s not clear if these were on the Opera or on a tug or tugs. Finally, there’s confirmation that in trying to slow or stop the Opera, the tugs put so much so pressure on a line to the ship that it broke.

Now onto the politics. As I said in an earlier post, there is a proposal to have cruise ships approach the city along the shore of the mainland towards the industrial port of Maghera, then divert eastwards straight to the existing cruise terminal. In order to achieve this a new deep water passage would need to be dredged in the Vittorio Emanuelle III channel, which is the stretch of water running broadly north to south between the mainland and historic Venice. So far no progress has been made on this work, and there’s a report that this may be due to political disagreements. Italy’s government is a coalition between different parties. A deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini (of the League party) blamed the Five Star Movement for rejecting the plan. For its part, the Five Star Movement, which is part of the governing coalition along with the League party, responded that it had not received any proposals to consider. This one will clearly run and run…..

Next, the protests. Some thousands of people demonstrated against the cruise ships over the weekend. This is nothing new in and of itself, but of course on this occasion there was a cause for the demonstration – the crash on 2 June. The demonstrations will not in themselves achieve anything; indeed, my personal feeling is that part of the reason for the hostility to the cruise ships is the feeling of powerlessness on the part of ordinary Venetians. I gather that ‘Venice’ is simply part of a larger municipality, most of which is based on the mainland and therefore Venice’s concerns can (and do) get lost when being considered by that authority; and additionally the cruise port is part of another authority which doesn’t answer to the municipality anyway! No wonder that people are protesting; and the cruise ships are the obvious target. Continue Reading »

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Following the collision between MSC Opera and a river vessel on 2 June, MSC Opera has remained docked in Venice at the Venice cruise terminal. During this time unspecified repairs have been performed on MSC Opera. MSC have published an update on their website as follows:-

“Following the recent incident in the Port of Venice on Sunday June 2nd, MSC Opera was required to undergo some repair works. While these works were already completed on Monday, the ship is currently still awaiting the completion of the investigation conducted by the authorities.”

As these procedures are taking a few days longer than originally expected, and we now know that the ship will not be able to depart in time for its next sailing, we have taken the difficult but necessary decision to cancel the upcoming cruise sailing from Bari on June 8th and from Venice on June 9th.”

My interpretation of the ‘completion of investigation’ point is that this is an investigation into the events of 2 June, and not a check of the repair work.

It’s worth also reporting MSC’s compensation arrangements. All passengers on both the cancelled cruises (June 1st/2nd, and June 8th/9th) will receive:

  • a full refund of their cruise fare and any pre-booked services;
  • a refund of “incurred travel expenses”;
  • a 50% discount on a future cruise to be taken before the end of 2020.

In addition, passengers on the earlier cruise could stay on board in Venice until their scheduled disembarkation date. During the “cruise”, all the ship’s facilities remained available, and all drinks – alcoholic and non-alcoholic – were complimentary. Free shuttles between the ship and St Mark’s Square, the Lido, Murano and Burano were made available. Finally, passengers who preferred to leave the cruise early were offered MSC’s support to “identify a convenient return flight or other homebound transportation as applicable”.

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O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I’ve been viewing some YouTube videos by a couple who post there as ‘Sean & Steff’. They are keen cruisers and they’re American – I think they live in Florida, so very handy for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, etc. This spring they did a couple of cruises with P&O: Ventura to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge and Guernsey, and Azura to the fjords. They did a number of posts for the Ventura cruise and those for the Azura cruise are starting to appear now.

Their take on the ships and the cruises is from an American point of view, and of course it’s always interesting to get a different perspective on something that we are so familiar with. I was almost nervous when I started watching. But….

They loved it!

They specifically enjoyed and complimented:

  • the embarkation process!
  • the food!! (even in the MDR!!)
  • …let alone the food in the speciality restaurants, e.g. Sindhu and the evening buffet!!!
  • and they complimented the muster drill procedure – the first time they’ve ever actually put on life jackets!

Here’s a link to their YouTube Channel home page. It’s well worth a visit.

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The US Government this week announced new restrictions on travel from the US to Cuba, including by cruise ship.

Actually, I gather that travel to Cuba from the US has been generally banned anyway, but there were a couple of ways round the ban that were tolerated by the US government – these easements were introduced during President Obama’s administration. The first was something called “group people-to-people educational” travel, while the other was to allow cruise ships departing from US ports to call at Cuban ports. (You’ll all remember that Carnival Corp set up a new line, fathom, to do this and pinched – er, transferred – Adonia from P&O for that purpose.) Now the current US administration has reversed that easement and as from this week travel to Cuba from the US has once again become very difficult. The reason given in the announcement by the US Treasury Secretary is because Cuba has continued “to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”

Cruise lines are understandably in some confusion over this. Royal Caribbean, for example, is saying on its website that they are “analyzing the details to understand the impact to future sailings”. However, they have already cancelled the calls at Cuba for sailings from ports in Florida today (5 June) and tomorrow. It’s also unclear what effect the new US policy will have on calls at Cuba by cruise lines not based in the US, e.g. Fred. Olsen who do have some cruises that include Cuba.

I’ll keep watching this one. In the meantime, here’s a link to a CNN webpage that carries the story.

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Many readers will already have read about the collision yesterday between MSC Opera, a cruise ship of about 66,000 tons, and a river cruise boat. The collision happened as the Opera was passing along the Giudecca Canal. The ship went out of control and went into the quayside where the river cruise boat was moored. Some passengers on the river boat ended up in the water, and there were some injuries – I’m not clear if these were the same people as went into the water. Fortunately there don’t seem to have been any fatalities.

There are still a lot of uncertainties about the actual events. There’s a persistent account that the Opera was actually under tow, or had tug assistance, as she was passing along the Giudecca canal and that the line between Opera and the tug snapped, or failed in some way, allowing Opera to move freely. There’s another account, however, supported by transmissions from the pilot to the shore, that suggests that Opera may have been transiting the Giudecca on her own power when control was lost, and it was at this point that the tugs attempted to bring her back under control. I’m assuming that there will be an investigation, though who will do it I don’t know – Opera is registered in the Panamanian registry.

This has immediately restarted the debate on what to do about cruise ships transiting the Giudecca canal to reach Venice cruise terminal. Just to recap: the Giudecca canal – (which isn’t actually a ‘canal’ as we understand it – a better translation would be ‘channel’) is the body of water that passes to the south of St Mark’s square & the Doge’s Palace, etc, and then on between the main island of Venice and Giudecca island. The cruise terminal is at the western end of this body of water; in order to reach the open Adriatic, ships must pass along this channel and then into a maintained deep channel through the Venetian Lagoon out to an entrance to the Adriatic some mile to the east. In fact, this is the only route for cruise ships to get from the Adriatic to the cruise terminal, and vice-versa.

In recent years there have been strong protests about the movement of cruise ships along the Giudecca and through St Mark’s Basin, on several grounds. First, that the passage of such very large ships creates a wash that penetrates the shallow water canals of Venice, erodes their banks and damages the under-water infrastructure; and secondly, that cruise ships are simple horribly out of scale in that place.

As a result of these protests various regulations have been imposed, removed, re-imposed…. it’s quite confusing. At one point, pre-2014, there seemed to be no restriction on ships passing along the Giudecca (as long as their draught wasn’t too great) so some very large ships were passing through that channel. (There were many pictures of the 137,000 ton MSC Divina doing so at that time, for example.) Continue Reading »

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I gather that Britannia was very delayed getting into Southampton yesterday (25 May 2019) at the end of a 7 night Fjords cruise – I believe she didn’t dock until around 3pm. This, of course, affected both disembarkation and embarkatio, both of which were very delayed. Embarkation eventually started early evening, and Britannia sailed for Cherbourg at just after 11pm.

I understand that the cause of the problem was engine trouble, but at the moment it’s not clear what the nature of the problem was. I can only assume that it was fixed, as Marine Traffic showed Britannia reaching just over 20 knots on the passage to Cherbourg, which I guess would not have been possible if the problem was persisting.

Apparently P&O emailed passengers on Friday to advise them to delay their arrival into Southampton by five hours, but it seems that a lot of people didn’t receive it, or didn’t notice it – there are accounts of people arriving at the normal time and then having to sit in their cars in and around the dock for a number of hours. The coaches stuck to their timetable, apparently, although there was a story that after his last pickup one driver visited every service station on the road between Leicester and Southampton in order to delay arrival! I assume that coach passengers arriving on time (which would normally be during the early and mid afternoon) had to sit in the waiting lounge in the terminal.

I’m not clear yet what arrangements were made for dinner yesterday evening, but I imagine it would be open seating wherever people could be accommodated. There was also a suggestion that at some point there was a distribution of sandwiches to those waiting in cars.

Finally, I gather that P&O has implemented £20 additional OBC for those passengers delayed embarkation. Some people are happy with this, some are not. No word about anything for the delayed arrivers – at least one passenger has pointed out that, with their long drive home (possibly to Scotland), they were having to book an unplanned night at a Premier Inn en route because they weren’t starting their drive home until mid-afternoon, they would not be able to do the whole drive in one go. This has led to significant extra expense, of course.

If i pick up more details I’ll post them here.

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