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A day in Venice

Today we we’ve been in Venice. Oceana entered the lagoon around 6:30, by 7:30 we were sailing slowly through St Mark’s Basin and past the Palazzo Ducale, and by not long after 8 o’clock we were tying up at the cruise terminal. Oceana is one of five or six ships that we’ve seen in port today – in addition to us there’s AIDAblu, Norwegian Spirit, MSC Musica, Costs Deliziosa, and a ‘Silver-something’ ship – small and luxurious. So all of the ships are (as required) smaller than 90-something thousand tons.

We’ve been here before a couple of times – once on a cruise, the second time on a weekend break – so we haven’t booked an excursion, we’ve been doing our own thing. The main target of the day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello island, in the north of the lagoon. Apparently when ‘Venice’ first emerged as a significant settlement during the period immediately after the end of the western Roman Empire, Torcello was for several centuries the main centre of settlement. That meant, therefore, that the first major cathedral was built there, and the present basilica is essentially that cathedral. It dates from the 7th century, although it has been enlarged and restored several times since then. But basically it’s very big eastern-style basilica with some amazing Byzantine-style mosaics. The present mosaics have been much restored over the centuries so there is a question as to how many of the tesserae actually date from the early period, but never mind – it’s a bit like the woodman’s axe which after many years use was as good as the day it was new, thanks to having had several new axe heads and handles…. Continue Reading »

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Today we were in Split, and we were booked on an excursion, Sights and Sounds of Split Riviera. This consisted of a drive to Trogir, a guided walk around Trogir, a visit to the cathedral there, a refreshment break at an old mill, and finally a quick walk into old Split and an introduction to Diocletian’s Palace. Unfortunately, we found the excursion disappointing.

To be fair to our guide, the tour did everything that was advertised – we did go to Trogir, walked around it, we visited the cathedral and we had some free time there. Then we did indeed visit the old mill and had refreshments, and finally we were walked to a point in Split where our guide pointed out the best entrance to Diocletian’s Palace. Unfortunately the delivery was disappointing. It was perhaps unfortunate that it’s Saturday and that therefore the roads and towns are very busy – we were delayed about 15 minutes getting into Trogir. Once we collected ourselves our guide walked us into the centre of the old town and gave us a commentary along the way. Unfortunately it seems to mainly consist of advice on good places to get Croatian Kuna, the best places to buy gelato, and please avoid this (actually, very obvious) piece of street furniture as you walk along. Fair enough, I thought. Then came the visit to the cathedral. Continue Reading »

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Transfer to Oceana

It’s Thursday so it must be time to transfer from the hotel to Oceana. We already knew that the transfer was to be at 11 o’clock, and we were in the hotel lobby checking out before 10:30. We found a P&O rep who was organising the collection of luggage, and who also gave each of us a health questionnaire/declaration to complete and hand in at check-in. We had time for a chat with another couple who were also transferring, then at 11 o’clock prompt we were called to board the coach. This appeared to be full, by the way, so there must have been perhaps 50 passengers staying at the hotel.

The distance from the hotel to the cruise terminal is only a couple of miles or so, but the roads in Valletta generally have to take a complicated route. What with that plus traffic congestion I suppose it took us nearly 15 minutes before we arrived at the terminal. We were off the bus quickly and straight into check-in, which followed the usual format: we handed over our passports, e-tickets and a credit card, and in return they took our photographs and then gave us a cruise card each. There was a security screen as well but we were through that quickly, and then we walked across the hot quayside and onto Oceana. This was about 11:30 so the whole process had taken very little time. We were told that the cabins would be available by 12:30 so to pass the time we went to the Plaza (Oceana’s buffet) and had an early lunch. A little bit of exploration after that took us to 12:30 at which time we were told via an announcement that the cabins were ready so off we headed. We were pleased to see that our bags were already stacked outside the cabin.

So then we unpacked which didn’t take too long – having to pack for the flight meant that we didn’t have as much stuff as we would normally take from Southampton. Being gluttons for punishment we then went back ashore and explored the area around the Triton Fountain. But it was hot and we were a bit tired so we were back onboard by 3-ish.

We have safety drill at 8:15 tonight (new passengers only) so that has impacted on our dinner plans somewhat. We think we’ll go to dinner early, then do the drill, and after that see how we feel. I suspect an early night might ensue.

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A Day in Valletta

Today was our full day in Valletta. We didn’t really have a plan for the day, we just decided to explore.

We learned that the hotel runs a free shuttle up into Valletta at 10 o’clock, and back at 6pm so we decided to take advantage of the shuttle into town, at least. So by about 10 o’clock we we were dropped at Castille Place which is on the south western side of the town, by the Auberge of Castille. We spent a short while looking for a tourist information centre and an ATM, and found both, but I would have to say that the TIC was disappointing. After that we just walked. First we found our way onto Republic Street and walked north-eastwards into the heart of Valletta. I was enjoying the old buildings and their distinctive architecture – all built of limestone, and all with balcony windows at various levels. We walked up to Great Siege Square and on to Republic Square where we had a coffee at a large outdoor café – Café Cordina. (As with any Mediterranean outdoor coffee shop, there is a real café across the street with loos, etc.)

Continue Reading »

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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.

Iona-Deckplans-2019-20

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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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