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Sleek vs. Ugly

Val has insisted that I should post this comparison of two ships (I use the term loosely) that we saw in Valletta harbour this afternoon…..

Sleek or Ugly?

Ugly or Sleek?

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Getting to Malta

This covers the usual first day stuff, with the difference that this day doesn’t end with embarkation but with arrival at our hotel on Malta for the first of our two nights there.

First, though, we had a night at a hotel at Manchester Airport before the flight. This was OK but would have been expensive but for the fact that we were able to get the room itself – that is, the night’s stay – for free, thanks to my wife’s IHG loyalty club points. But that still left us paying for dinner, breakfast, drinks, and even overnight parking, and altogether that was not cheap. One thing – we were departing from T2 at Manchester and we spent half-an-hour working out the best way to T2 from the hotel. We did this because in fact there is no signage from the area by the Clayton & Crowne Plaza hotels to T2. We worked out that if we followed signs to The Station we would then pick up signs to T2, and at eight o’clock this mornings we were pleased we’d done the exploration yesterday.

We’d booked parking with T2 Meet and Greet and this worked very well – once we reached the signs to T2 we quickly found the directions to the meet & greet, and had no problems. Then we queued for at least 45 minutes to drop our bag at the Air Malta check in desk, which seemed slow. Then we were quickly through security and into the airside area where we had coffee and a rest.

Boarding was quite prompt, but we then sat in a full plane for a further 45 minutes after scheduled take off time with apparently nothing happening. But eventually we got airborne and from then on the flight passed without incident, and indeed we made up some time, landing in Malta about just 30 minutes behind schedule. We were quickly through immigration and baggage reclaim, and then found our P&O transport to the hotel. There were just four of us to be transferred, and the journey took maybe 20 minutes or so with a chatty driver who gave us some hints of places to go.

When we arrived at the hotel we faced the issue of the delayed check-in because of the government function. We were deep in negotiations to try and get the complimentary early dinner we’d been promised exchanged for a drink in the bar, when it was discovered that in fact our room was ready for us. So we just checked in, showered, relaxed with a cup of tea, and then went in search of alcohol and food. Readers, we found them both, in both quantity and quality, and a good evening was had. This seems like a very, very nice hotel – I’ll do a separate post about it later if I can.

Tomorrow we’re going to explore Valletta.

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This Year’s Cruise

So we’re finally off on this year’s cruise. It’s been a long wait – we got back from our last cruise at the end of June 2017 – but it’s arrived at last.

We’re doing a seven night cruise on Oceana, the Adriatic half of one of her 14-night cruises out of Malta. We’ve got a balcony cabin on deck B, and we’re on Freedom Dining. We’re starting with a couple of nights in Malta, booked as a ‘pre-cruise’ stay within the overall cruise booking so the complete holiday will be 9 nights. We’ve never been to Malta so we’re hoping that we’ll find it as enjoyable as everyone says it is. We’ve also never cruised on Oceana so we shall be interested to find out what she’s like. We did a P&O ship visit to her more than 10 years ago but she’s had several refits since then so our memories of what we saw may well no longer apply.

All our flights are arranged as part of the cruise, of course. We’re flying out with Air Malta and then transferring to the Excelsior Grand hotel in Valetta. That’s all supposed to be seamless, but we received a call from P&O the other day to say that there would be a delay checking-in at the hotel when we arrive – apparently there is a government function taking place during the afternoon when we arrive and this will take over most of the public facilities in the hotel. So we will have to wait patiently for 90 minutes or so until 6 o’clock before we can check in. The hotel is apparently laying on an early dinner for us, but we’re not sure that we’ll be ready to eat at that time – 6pm in Malta is only 4pm in the UK. But never mind – perhaps the inbound flight will be delayed anyway!

Our flight home will be on the regular TUI charter flight. The only wrinkle with all these arrangement is TUI’s very restrictive cabin bag allowance, 5kgs. So I’ve had to rethink my photography arrangements – instead of taking my much-loved Canon 5D Mk 4 plus a set of (big, heavy) ‘L’ lenses, I shall be reverting to an older, smaller system – a Canon 750D, with a single lens. Ah well….

It’s also the case that I won’t be doing much photo-processing while I’m away. Because of the low cabin baggage allowance on the flight home I can’t take my laptop with me, just the iPad, and the processing possibilities on the latter are limited and complicated compared with what I can do on the former. Additionally, I won’t be getting an internet account while I’m on-board. I shall rely on roaming arrangements using my phone, and I’ll tether the iPad to the phone. As a result I probably won’t be posting any images until I get home, unless I take some with the iPhone just to post. In fact, if Apple had announced their new phone a week earlier I’d have bought an iPhone XS (which I understand is pronounced ‘Ten Ess’) just in time to take away, and not bothered with a camera at all. So while I shall be blogging during the cruise it will probably be text-only, and I shall do some follow-up posts with lots of images when I get home.

Finally, the itinerary is: Malta; Split; Venice; Zadar; Dubrovnik; and then back to Malta. Please check in for further posts as the holiday progresses.

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Iona Deckplans

P&O have just revealed the deckplans for their 2020 new ship, Iona – I’ve attached the PDF below.

As I’ve been saying for a while, they are very similar to those for AIDAnova, the first of the big LNG ships to go into service (in a couple of months or so, I believe). Of course there are detailed differences – the names and styles of leisure areas (bars, restaurants, etc) will differ between the two. But here’s a list of what I’ve spotted so far as being major differences, or points of interest:

  • Iona has an infinity pool aft on deck 16 (the Lido deck) that AIDAnova doesn’t have. That will be a cool feature, I think. The problem will be getting your turn in it. The marketing material will probably feature an attractive-looking couple all alone in it, of course, enjoying the view, but when actual passengers use it it’ll be full – you’ll probably have to queue to get your two minutes looking at the view!
  • there are some differences on deck 8, which on the Iona deck plans is named as the Promenade deck and which does indeed show a complete wrap-round promenade! The differences are that on Iona the whole of that deck aft of the Atrium is devoted to public spaces – the forward part (of the Atrium) will be cabins. On AIDAnova the public space is shifted forwards a bit – there are some cabins in the very forward area, and also some right aft. On Iona that aft area is occupied by the Clubhouse and, right at the stern, the Sunset Bar which looks as if it’s open – a widening of the wrap-round promenade, in fact, as it crosses the stern. There are also a couple of whirlpools in that area;
  • On Iona the Conservatory Mini-Suites seem to be on both the Promenade deck (in that area forward of the Atrium with the cabins), and also on Deck 9 above, whereas on AIDAnova they’re only on deck 9. However, given that the Promenade deck has a wrap-round promenade, that means that the actual balcony area for all balcony cabins will be set back from the edge of the ship – the promenade itself will be outside these cabins. Not sure how much I’d fancy that….
  • and finally for the comparison, there appear to be a number of detailed differences on the top decks – deck 16, 17 and 18. AIDAnova has a series of waterslides ranging across these decks – it looks as if you can start at deck 18 and be delivered into a pool (I assume – or perhaps it’s just a dry slide) on deck 16. In Iona’s case there are no slides, although there is another aft pool on deck 18, the Panorama Pool and Bar.

Finally something I’ve spotted which is common to both ships, and that’s that balcony sizes won’t be the same for all cabins in a given class. The decks between the Promenade and the Lido – decks 9 to 15 inclusive, in other words – is quite ‘moulded’; that is, it isn’t a single long slab of cabins in the style of Ventura, Azura or Britannia. Instead, it’s wider in some places and narrower in others, and balcony sizes can vary between these locations. Have a look at the graphic alongside which shows a block of Standard balcony cabins in grade GZ on deck 10. As you can see, ten of these cabins (10.702 to 10.710) appear to have a good-sized balcony; then the next cabin on each side (10.711 & 10.712) has a bigger balcony; and finally the remaining balcony cabins in the block, 10.714 to 10.735, have smaller balconies, smaller even on the first set. But these cabins are all the same grade and would therefore cost the same!

The same sort of issue arises with Deluxe balcony cabins. They’re mostly on a midships ‘hump’, and the graphic alongside is taken from the deck plan for Deck 9. The cabins are indeed larger than those shown in the previous graphic, and that’s right – they’re Deluxe cabins as against Standard. But look at the size of the balconies. I think those for 9.418, 9.421, 9.448 & 9.451 look very small and awkward. As you get close to the apex of the hump they get bigger, so those for 9.432, 9.435, 9.434 & 9.437 look to be ok. Again, though, these are all the same class of cabin for the same price even though i would suggest that their attractiveness varies quite a bit.

There are quite a lot of examples of varying balcony sizes in the same class of cabin, so you’ll need to be aware of this. In fact, this is an argument in favour of paying the Select fare – that’s the only way you can choose your cabin at the time of booking and thus bag one with a good-sized balcony.

Here’s the deck plan PDF.


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P&O have just announced their sailings and dates for summer 2020. I’ve already received emails from several TAs, and I expect other people have as well. But here’s my brief analysis.

They seem to have moved away from the “each ship goes everywhere” model of previous years; instead, a given ship will be deployed in one particular area (with a couple of exceptions).

  • Iona, as we already knew, will spend the whole summer doing 7 night Norwegian fjord itineraries (I think the maiden voyage will be 9 nights);
  • Oceana will complete her winter 2019/20 fly-cruise Arabian Gulf itineraries and will then sail to Valletta to begin another summer of 7 and 14-night fly-cruises from there into the central Mediterranean – pretty much as she is doing this summer and next;
  • Ventura will spend summer 2020 doing a mixture of shorter (up to 7 nights, including some 2-nighters) and longer (typically 12 night) cruises from Southampton around the English Channel and out to the Canary Islands;
  • Azura will do a programme of 14 night cruises, alternating between the western Mediterranean and the Baltic;
  • Britannia will do almost nothing but 14 night western Mediterranean cruises from Southampton;

Arcadia and Aurora are the exceptions to the model above. They will both do programmes of often longer cruises to a variety of destinations:

  • Arcadia’s itineraries will include the western Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, the Baltic and a long trip to Canada. A lot of these cruises will be longer than 14 nights;
  • Aurora will do similar itineraries, although perhaps not quite as long as Arcadia’s.

Going back to a question I asked when Iona’s schedule became know – would any other P&O ships do cruises into the Fjords in summer 2020? – the answer seems to be ‘No’. Arcadia and Aurora both include Norway in their itineraries, but only visiting coastal posts, e.g. Andalsnes, Tromso, Narvik and Bergen or Stavanger, and only in the context of a cruise that also extends to Iceland. Only Iona will visit the fjords as such, to Olden and Geiranger. That would fit with Iona being cleaner than the other ships in the fleet thanks to her LNG propulsion system

Looking at the itineraries overall, I’m afraid that I think that the bulk of them look very ho-hum. I haven’t studied the itineraries for Arcadia and Aurora in detail – with their variety in both destination and length they may be more interesting. But the repeated cruises into the same areas for Azura, Britannia, Iona, Oceana and Ventura look very routine. Maybe I’m just jaded….. But I’ve been looking at Fred. Olsen’s itineraries, and I have to say that the mix of destinations they’re offering making good use of the small size of their ships, looks more interesting. And from regional ports, too.

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Aurora in Geirangerfjord

Following my recent post about the possibility of strict – extremely strict – emissions controls in the World Heritage fjords in Norway, I’ve been contacted by a reader, Malcolm Fowler. He’s sent me the shot you can see above, which is of Aurora in Geiranger in 2006. Geiranger is certainly one of the World Heritage fjords to which these stricter emissions control would be applied, if they are implemented.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to be able to say if the smoke haze you can see is harmful or not, or to what extent if it is. But even so, just looking at the image is not a good feeling – the shop’s exhaust is obviously leaving something in the atmosphere. Furthermore it appears as if it’s just hanging there and not dissipating – could this be be due to the particular conditions and landscape of the location?

Of course we all want visit the fjords and see the amazing scenery, but I for one am disturbed by the thought that my doing so might be harming the very thing I want to see. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” is a good motto, it seems to me.

Many thanks to Malcolm Fowler for sending me the picture, which is © Malcolm Fowler and is used here with his kind permission.

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Britannia at Flam

I recently posted about P&O Iona’s first season itinerary in 2020, and that it was remarkable that it would be entirely spent in the Norwegian fjords. It was subsequently suggested that new anti-pollution regulations (from 2019) would be difficult for the existing P&O ships to comply with – hence the deployment of Iona, which will use LNG fuel, as from 2020.

I’ve done some further digging and the picture doesn’t seem quite as clear cut as that. The Norwegian Maritime Authority (NWA) is indeed in the process of developing new regulations on atmospheric pollution and water discharge from ships, and they will certainly cover cruise ships. However, the new regulations don’t cover *all* the fjords, just three of the ‘world heritage’ fjords. A small number of the most remote and dramatic fjords have been designated World Heritage sites, and part of the requirements applying to such sites is that they shall enjoy special protection – indeed, it’s the responsibility of the national authority to ensure that this protection is in place. The relevant World Heritage sites are the following three fjords:- Nærøyfjord, Aurlandsfjord, and Geirangerfjord. The first two of these are remote arms of Sognefjord. One of these, Aurlandsfjord, terminates at Flam which is of course a port frequently visited by P&O ships. Geiranger, the third world heritage fjord, has been visited in the past, but I don’t think it is these days (at least, not by P&O; although I think that Fred. Olsen ships do).

As far as I can make out, the new regulations, once/if agreed, will restrict the amount of sulphur and nitrous oxide pollution, would impose some restrictions on the use of ‘open loop’ scrubbing systems, and would also tighten up the regulations regarding the discharge of sewage from ships in these locations.

At the moment I’m really unclear what impact these regulations will have on the ability of existing ships to cruise into these areas. Certainly all the cruise lines I’ve looked at – e.g. P&O and Fred. Olsen – have full programmes of cruises into the fjords throughout the summer of 2019. As yet we don’t have itineraries for P&O ships other than Iona for 2020, nor for ships of other lines, but these will be available in early September. That will tell us if the lines are expecting to be able to use existing ships on the usual itineraries in 2020 or not.

As regards possible further new regulations, there is a sting in the tail. Recently the Norwegian parliament passed something called an “anmodningsvedtak”. This is a resolution which calls upon the government to bring proposals (on whatever the issue is) back to the parliament. In this case the parliament has called for zero emissions to be implemented in the fjords, by 2026 at the latest. This parliamentary action is very recent, so there’s been no response yet from the government. But if relevant proposals are brought forward, that would be a major change. It’s being suggested that the only technology that could meet the requirement would be electric, i.e. battery-powered, ships; although someone I discussed this with mused that nuclear-powered vessels would also do! Somehow, though, I don’t see the Norwegians allowing nuclear-powered ships into their fjords!

I’ll keep watching this issue and report developments as they occur.

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News just in – well, earlier today – is that on cruises from May next year (2019) P&O will no longer be levying the discretionary service charge.

The situation at the moment is that a ‘discretionary service charge’ of £7 a day per adult is added to everybody’s on-board account. It is possible to remove this, by completing a form which is available from guest services. Anecdotally, this has been common practice amongst passengers. From next May the charge will no longer be made.

Of course, it’s the case that passenger-facing crew (cabin attendants, waiters, etc) make most of their money from these discretionary service charges (from now on let’s call them what they always used to be called, i.e. ‘tips’), and presumably P&O has to guarantee some sort of income to the crew. The belief is that because these charges were discretionary, many passengers – or even most passengers – have been removing them and this has affected the crews’ incomes. Presumably, therefore, the cost of the discretion…, sorry, the tips, will be included in the cost of the cruise from May onwards. This, in turn, will tend to increase the price of the cruises, and some people on the P&O Passenger Facebook group are saying that this is already happening. Others, however, are pointing out that the price of cruise holidays does fluctuate anyway, in both directions. And as cruising becomes more popular, prices may well increase. I don’t know what the result will be, but the cynic in me suggests that if the prices are increased to cover the tips, then in fact the increase will actually be rather greater.

One group of passengers will have done well, of course – those who have already booked cruises for dates after May 2019, and who will therefore have already a firm price. They won’t have to pay the tips, nor will the price of their already-booked cruise increase.


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I imagine that everyone has heard this by now – I’ve received about half-a-dozen emails about it this morning – but here goes anyway. P&O have announced that Iona will spend her first season cruising in the fjords. That will be from May 2020, and will continue through the summer.

The information we’ve got is still sketchy, and there’s no real information about the actual dates, or the amount of variety in the itineraries of different cruises, but I’m sure this will come. We can perhaps glean some things from the information on the website. There are information headings for the following places: Bergen, Stavanger, Alesund, Geiranger and Olden, which looks pretty much like the current itineraries. (No mention of Flam, however, unless I’ve missed it or misunderstood the information.) And no mention of longer itineraries, e.g. 14-night cruises to Iceland as well as Norway. So it looks like the initial season might be a succession of repeated very similar voyages. I wonder if this is because there are only a limited number of ports that can physically take a ship that large? And I wonder if this will ‘freeze out’ fjords voyages by other ships in the P&O fleet in 2020? I imagine there will be a significant number of passengers who would enjoy a fjords cruise on, say, Aurora but not on Iona. [Update: Neil Ringan has suggested (in the comment below) that the Norwegians will be introducing new environmental legislation that only Iona will be able to meet (she will be LNG-powered). So it might be that by 2020 none of the other ships in the P&O fleet will be able to enter the fjords anyway.]

I think all will become clearer on the 3rd of September. That’s the day when the itineraries and prices for summer 2020 for the whole of the P&O fleet will be made available, and when ‘pre-registration’ will open. Then cruises on Iona will be bookable from 10 September for Peninsular Club Caribbean, Baltic and Ligurian tier members, and from 12 September for everyone else. For the rest of the fleet the equivalent dates will be 17 September for the high-tier members, then 19 September for general sales for cruises between March and June 2020, and 20 September for cruises between July and October 2020.

Finally, there are still no detailed deck plans for Iona. However, I expect that these will be available soon, and in any case by 3 September.

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Continuing yesterday’s theme of protecting fragile environments, it’s time to look at Venice again. In fact, it turns out that I’m about 9 months or so late on this story – some decisions were made in November 2017 that I completely missed. I’m disappointed that I didn’t spot this at the time as over the years I’ve done a number of posts about the issue of cruise ships getting into Venice cruise terminal. But better late than never.

The first significant post was in February 2012 when I outlined what the issues were. Then later that month I did another post to describe what seemed at that time to be the best solution. Then there was a post in November 2013 about a decision to ban the largest ships from sailing through St Mark’s Basin from November 2014, which in practice meant banning them from Venice altogether, there being no other route to the cruise terminal. There was some to-ing and fro-ing about that ban (court hearings, etc) but as far as I’m aware, the ban has stuck – certainly, the cruise lines have not breached it. This explains why P&O switched their Mediterranean fly-cruises from Ventura, which would have breached the limit, to Oceana, which doesn’t. Similarly, Celebrity Cruises switched their Venice itineraries away from Solstice-class ships (too big) to the older and small Millennium-class ships. (There was also a limit on the number of cruise ships doing this per day.)

So on to the stuff I missed. Last November a ‘Final Decision’ was taken by a government minister. The details of this seem to as follows:- Continue Reading »

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