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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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Yesterday (5 August 2018) The Observer published an article headed “Will giant cruise ships destroy the wonders their passengers claim to love?”. It was written by Rowan Moore, who is their architecture correspondent. (This is the second ‘In the News’ post I said I’d do.)

The thrust of the first part of the article is a reaction to the shooting of a polar bear by a guard on an island in Svalbard. The guard was one of two making preparations for the landing of passengers from MS Bremen on the island – the other guard was attacked by the bear and suffered some injuries before the second guide opened fire. Here’s a link to a BBC News story about the incident.

In his article Mr Moore reflects on the balances required when ships visit fragile environments – in this case, the waters of the high arctic, and on his own participation in that balance (he visited the area himself on a three masted sailing ship, the Antigua, this year). But the article quickly takes aim at cruise lines for increasing the pressure on these places. He mentions the following points:

  • that HAPAG Lloyd (the operators of the Bremen) will soon deploy two new 200-passenger Expedition ships into the area;
  • that Crystal Cruises will next year launch what is described as a “Polar class mega-yacht”;
  • and that Crystal Serenity became (in 2016) the first cruise ship to navigate the Northwest passage, “to the dismay of environmentalists”.

So far so good, I felt. Like Rowan Moore I have reservations about tourism into fragile environments, wherever they be, and like him I would probably prefer that these places should be left alone. Of course, there are counter arguments – it’s also probably the case that the two guards involved in the incident with the polar bear were locals, who were therefore gaining some employment and income from the ship’s visit. Nonetheless, I agree that these most fragile environments deserve the closest protection.

However, Mr Moore then goes on to say “it is contradictory to thrust floating towns…. into places whose beauty is in their pristine  solitude”. Well, I’m not aware that Royal Caribbean have any plans to send Oasis of the Seas into the far Arctic, and I don’t think that most of the ships he mentions could realistically be called ‘floating towns‘ (my emphasis). Indeed, if we feel that these places should be left alone, then not only should HAPAG Lloyds’ Bremen (and their new Expedition ships) be discouraged from calling, but so also should the three-masted Antigua. Mr Moore writes that he and his companions on Antigua “thought themselves good people, concerned about the environment, uneasy about the air miles that had got us there…”, but they still went. I’m not sure I see much difference, therefore, between him and passengers on other ships in that environment.

Later in the article he says “Giant cruise ships look to me like misery machines”. Well, I disagree, of course, and I’m someone who has some reservations about where cruising is going. Nonetheless, I still think that cruising is a perfectly good holiday for millions of people. It’s very easy to take pot-shots at people having the kind of holiday that you yourself wouldn’t take. Anyone for a stag or hen in Amsterdam? How about a week alternately sunning and clubbing on Ibiza? Not for me, either of them, but plenty of people would. Surely, as long as no laws are broken and local agreements and policies are observed, people should be free to enjoy the holiday they want? In the case of cruises, many passengers are ‘seniors’, quite a lot of them very senior indeed, and they will have spent many decades of their lives working very hard. Why shouldn’t they enjoy a comfortable holiday in their old age?

Rowan Moore raises a number of issues in his article, and I do agree with many of them. But I also think he repeats the journalistic mantra that I’m seeing more and more: that “cruise ships are evil!”. I’d like to reach out to Mr Moore and discuss these issues with him, but unfortunately I don’t have any way of contacting him to do so. I shouldn’t think he’ll read this article, but if he does perhaps he could send me a comment.

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In the news

A couple of news items have caught my eye in the last couple of days, and I decided I’d comment on them here. This post will cover the first that caught my eye, and a later post will deal with the other.

First was a press release from Cruise Industry News, in which they are forecasting “unprecedented growth” for Europe cruise lines. Based (I think) on the orders for new ships, they’re saying – if I’ve got this right – that cruise passenger numbers will rise from about 8 million this year to 14 million in ten years’ time; i.e. an increase of about 75%. They’ve published an ‘Infographic’ (which I’ve added below) which gives the number of ships that they expect to be active in the market and the number of berths on those ships. These show an increase from 132 ships with 198,919 berths (call it 200k) in 2018, to 163 ships with 301,405 berths (call it 300k) in 2027. So that adds some detail to the picture – with about 25%/30% more ships but 50% more berths, the ships are definitely going to get bigger.

The European cruise brands will go from carrying just over 8 million cruise guests in 2018 to over 14 million by 2027

More significantly, I’m not sure where they expect 14m passengers to cruise to. it’s already clear that some of the honey-pot destinations are full – I’m thinking of places such as Venice, Florence, Santorini, Barcelona and Dubrovnik. Non-cruise tourists also contribute to these numbers, of course – that would certainly be true of Florence, I think – but less so in the case of places such as Santorini. I also think that other destinations such as ports in Norway or Iceland would also struggle to accommodate more passengers. We did a fjords cruise on Britannia a couple of years ago and frankly she loomed over places like Flam and Stavanger, and when we landed at Ísafjörður in Iceland last year on Azura, the 3,000 passengers were already more than the total population of the town plus its hinterland – 2,500 or so.

So perhaps it is the case that the ship itself will become the point of the cruise. Perhaps also we will also see ‘corporate destinations’ appear: berths on the smaller islands in the Mediterranean that the cruise lines will develop and which will offer a holiday vacation for a day for the ships of their line.

Here are some pictures from ports in Norway taken on our last two cruises. They show, I think, how large even the current ships are, especially when seen in older, smaller places. The next generation of ships will be bigger.

And talking of the next generation of ships, here’s the Cruise news International inforgraphic.

CIN2018_Europe_Infographic

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(Update: well, I made a mess of the first version of this…. I was comparing the news about Iona with the wrong AIDA ship! Now revised.)

P&O continue to drip-feed bits of information about their new ship, Iona, which will join the fleet sometime in 2020. They released some information about the Grand Atrium a few weeks ago, and now it’s the turn of the cabins.

As you’d expect there are the usual mix of cabin types – Inside, Ocean-View, Balcony, and Suite. But there’s an additional cabin class – “Conservatory Mini-Suites”. This is how they’re described in the information on the P&O site:-

“The concept brings the outdoors in with a personal and versatile conservatory-style room that forms an extension to the cabin. It offers great flexibility and creates a distinctive relaxation and socialising zone. This space, which includes stylish L-shaped seating, can be closed off or left open according to the time of day or mood.

By day or in the evenings, the room opens out fully onto the balcony. With a direct connection to the sea, the space is cool and shaded – and perfect for chilling out in. In the evenings, it transforms into a spacious environment for private celebrations and socialising over pre-dinner drinks with friends and family. Leading directly onto the balcony, all configurations of this flexible space offer glorious seascape views.”

All of which sounds very interesting. But what does it mean? The first paragraph includes some factual information: “a … conservatory-style room that forms an extension to the cabin”. Not very clear. But here’s something I knocked up while wondering what they might mean: Continue Reading »

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I mentioned in a recent post that I’d been informed of a change to our itinerary. We’ll be going to Zadar, in Coatia, instead of Ravenna in Italy, and I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to seeing the mosaics in Ravenna.

Just to rub salt into the wound, I received our “Your Holiday Information” booklet from P&O over the weekend, and that of course includes a page for “Your Holiday Itinerary”. And there it still is, in black and white – ‘Ravenna’. Gnash, gnash….

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P&O Drinks Package

P&O are apparently going to trial a range of drinks packages on Azura. It will commence 21 July. There will be a range of packages – hot drinks, non-alcoholic, and children’s – but the headline package is the Ultimate Drinks Package.

The principal features of this are:

  • It will cost £39.95 per person per day;
  • All adults in a cabin must each buy it, and it must be for all days in the cruise. Well, that’s not quite true – you can buy it on board up until midnight of the second night of the cruise. Also, it will only apply to cruises of five nights or more;
  • It only applies to drinks up to a value of £6.95 – drinks over that value must be paid for, but package holders will get a 20% discount on them;
  • There’s a maximum of 15 drinks per day on the package;
  • And there has to be a 15-minute break between orders.

(There are some other restrictions, but those are the main ones.)

So this is a typical drinks package, as enjoyed by passengers on a number of cruise lines. I know some people enjoy them, but I’ve always had my doubts. £80-worth of alcohol a day, every day, is way too much for us – in fact, it could be more than £80, of course, if you actually had 15 drinks each in a day. (How you’d have anything the day after, beats me… actually, whether you’d be alive the day after is the real question!) We simply don’t drink that much – on occasion we’ve splashed out on an expensive bottle of wine, but that’s just one bottle. And we also like to have some sober days during a cruise, especially a 14 nighters or longer. So not for us, I think.

And I’ve started to have stray thoughts about how it would work in practice. Unfortunately it doesn’t include bottles of wine, just glasses, which means that wines that are only available by the bottle aren’t included – that’s a real blow to us. Although there’s always the Glass House….. Then there’s the weird interaction of the price ceiling and the 20% reduction for drinks costing more than that – if you buy a glass of wine at, say, £8.00 it’s not included in the package; but the actual price you’d pay would be £8.00 minus 20%, which would bring the price down to £6.40 – which is within the package price limit! Then there’s differently-sized wine servings – 175ml might be under the limit but 250ml might be over – so you just keep buying 175ml glasses. And finally, how will they handle a G&T? will that be one drink, or two? At the moment you do see two entries on your receipt slip.

Val says I’m over-thinking this, and she may be right.

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I did a post over a year ago about the issues that arose when we tried to book our next cruise (that’s this year’s). Eventually everything came together, and all seemed OK. But today I’ve received a bit of blow.

About a month ago we went through the excursions and booked three – one each for our calls at Ravenna, Split and Dubrovnik. (We’ll do our own thing at Venice.) For Ravenna I booked the “Ravenna Mosaics” tour – I’m especially interested in the period of history known as Late Antiquity, and Ravenna, by a series of historical accidents, has a number of buildings and interiors that date from that period. In fact, the inclusion of Ravenna in the itinerary was a big influence in the choice of that specific cruise.

Today I received an email from P&O informing me that the excursion had been cancelled and that I would get the relevant refund. I spoke to P&O to enquire as to the reason for the cancellation and quickly discovered that it wasn’t just the excursion that had been cancelled, it was the call at Ravenna that had been cancelled – due to “Tidal Conditions” in the port that day. We’ll be calling at Zadar instead.

Well, I’m sure that Zadar is attractive and pretty, and also that when the day arises I’ll enjoy the visit, but I’m still going to miss the mosaics.

Ah well, never mind. But it brings back the old advice: if you really, really want to visit somewhere, don’t rely on a cruise to do so – make it a special trip instead.

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I contacted Carnival U.K. this afternoon to ask if there was a response to yesterday’s events in Marseilles. I received the following statement from a Carnival U.K. spokesperson:

“The Carnival group carries nearly 11.5 million guests on its vessels each year and takes its legal and moral obligations towards the protection of the environment very seriously indeed. We were disappointed to be prosecuted for this offence, as we believe we and our Captain were acting in accordance with applicable French law based on guidance the cruise industry received from the French Environment Ministry. As such, we are confident that the court will fully exonerate us.”

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I did a post a couple of days ago about a trial to be held in Marseilles today (9 July 2018) of the Captain of Azura for a breach of the environmental regulations regarding sulphur pollution on March 29 in Marseilles.

I’ve been scouring the internet for updates, and I’ve learned that the case has been deferred until 9 October. I’m reading documents that have been through Google Translation so I can’t be 100% sure of what I’m reading, but this is what I think I’ve discovered:-

  • this is definitely a criminal case (previously I wasn’t certain that it wasn’t a civil case);
  • the maximum penalties are 1 year in prison and a €200,000 fine. I wasn’t sure if these were alternatives (“or”), but they can both be applied;
  • there’s a suggestion that the Captain didn’t appear today – instead, Carnival’s lawyers (Mes. Bertrand Coste and Patrick Simon) appeared before the court and made arguments and presentations;
  • and I gather that Carnival Corporation – presumably in the guise of its French subsidiary – are also joined to the action. This is new – previously only the Captain was indicted.

Indeed, I get a hint that it was the prosecution that asked for the deferral until October, as presumably they want to make further investigations for a possible case against Carnival Corp and not just the Captain. So it looks as if this is becoming a more serious affair.

One interesting thing – the Captain has not been named, in any document that I’ve read. As it happens I’ve worked out who I believe was the Azura’s Captain on 29 March; but seeing as there may be some French law over revealing the identity, I’m going to keep quiet as well.

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