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Update: here’s a link to the relevant page on the Fred Olsen website.

Over the years I’ve done a few posts about the several “historical cruising” lines. Once there were three of these: Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery, and Voyages to Antiquity. Their USP was that they offered cruises to historical destinations, with the services of authoritative speakers and guides on board, so the cruise could be as much an educational experience as purely a leisure one. Swan Hellenic were the grand-daddy of this niche, with a history going back to the 1950s, and at one point they also had the best ship – being part of the P&O (later Carnival UK) empire they managed to acquire an R ship, at a time (early/mid 00s?) when these were languishing after the bancruptcy of their original owners. But then Carnival found other uses for her and Swan Hellenic was left without a ship. Eventually they, together with another of these companies – Voyages of Discovery – ended up as part of the All Leisure group; but they too went bankrupt in 2017 . That left Voyages to Antiquity (VtA) alone in the field, and continuing to provide cruises in its vessel, the Aegean Odyssey.

The Aegean Odyssey was originally built as an Aegean car ferry in the early 1970s and was converted to a passenger-only cruise ship in the mid 1980s. After being operated by various Greek cruise/passenger lines, she ended up with VtA in around 2009, and did her first cruise for them in 2010. She was very small – about 15,000 tons with just about 350 passengers. Things seems to have generally gone well until the spring of 2019, when she suffered major engine problems. Most of the cruises for 2019 had to be cancelled, and in September 2019 VtA announced that they were “ceasing operations” and that the now-repaired Aegean Odyssey was being chartered for three years by a US-based educational company. All future VtA cruises were also cancelled at that time.

Today I have received a brochure, ostensibly from VtA, announcing a programme of 12 cruises this year and into next (2020 & 2021) – on board Fred Olsen ships. In fact, once you get past the welcome message from John Cain, a director of VtA, you get the feeling that it is very much Fred Olsen. Continue Reading »

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P&O have just published their itineraries for these two periods, together with details of how to “register an interest”. (This is their usual convoluted procedure by which you actually commit to booking, but don’t make one until you reach your point in the loyalty club pecking order.)

At first glance the itineraries look to be pretty familiar. The headline news is that the summer fly-cruises from Valletta will be done by Azura and not Oceana. Azura will be doing the familiar run of 7-night cruises itineraries from Valletta into either the Adriatic, the eastern Mediterranean or Western mediterranean; stick any two of those itineraries together and you’ve got a 14-night cruise. One big difference between the Azura itineraries and Oceana’s present ones is that Azura will *not* be calling at Venice – instead, her Adriatic itineraries will include a call at Trieste. I’m sure that this is because of the voluntary limit of a maximum ship size of around 90,000 tons that the cruise lines are observing for calls into Venice. (Originally this was going to be an Italian law but was eventually struck down by an Italian court, but as I say, the cruise lines have agreed to stick to the limit on a voluntary basis.)

Oceana will instead be doing a series of cruises during summer 2021 either to the Canary Islands (12 nights), the Iberian peninsula (7 nights) and 2-night short cruises to the Channel Islands. Then in Winter 2021/22, Oceana is scheduled to return to the Arabian Gulf, to run a series of 7 night fly cruises from Dubai. As some will remember I did a 10-night cruise from Dubai this year on Oceana – here’s link to the posts I did about it. These 7 night itineraries are obviously different from the one I did, although they may be similar to the planned winter 2020/21 itineraries – I haven’t really looked. But essentially, the cruises will start and finish at Dubai, and each cruise will feature a full day in Dubai; there will be just one full day in Abu Dhabi; most if not all cruises include Manama, some also include Sir Bani Yas island, some include Doha in Qatar. All of these ports are east of Dubai, but a few itineraries go in the opposite direction and feature an overnight stay in Muscat and a day call at Khasab (both in Oman). I’m sorry that the call at Abu Dhabi has been reduced to just one day – I preferred Abu Dhabi to Dubai, to be truthful. And you could leave out Sir Bani Yas island for me – just a beach with uncomfortable loungers!

Going back to the newly announced schedules, it looks as if Aurora and Arcadia will be spending the year doing longer and more varied itineraries – that’s pretty much the same as is planned for 2020. It looks as if Ventura will be majoring on the Baltic, with some trips to the western Mediterranean; Iona will be sticking to the fjords in the summer and then mainly doing Canary Islands cruises (with some western Mediterranean cruises) in the winter. Britannia will be doing a whole series of western Mediterranean cruises in summer 2021, and then switching to Caribbean fly-cruises in winter 2021/22; Azura will also be doing Caribbean fly-cruises over the winter.

So here’s a summary of the planned itineraries for summer 2021 through to late winter/early spring 2022:

  • Arcadia: individual, varied longer itineraries throughout the period, summer and winter;
  • Aurora: individual, varied longer itineraries throughout the period, summer and winter;
  • Azura: fly-cruises all year, from Valletta in the summer and in the Caribbean in the winter;
  • Britannia: western Mediterranean cruises from Southampton in summer, Caribbean fly-cruises in winter;
  • Iona: Norwegian fjord cruises in the summer, Canary Islands & western Mediterranean cruise from Southampton in the winter;
  • Oceana: Canary Islands, Iberia and short cruises during the summer, then Arabian Gulf fly-cruises during the winter;
  • Ventura: mainly cruises to the Baltic with some to the western Mediterranean during the summer, then Canary Islands cruises during the winter with a couple of long ‘no-fly’ Caribbean cruises from Southampton during the winter.

Here’s a link to the relevant page on the P&O website. be warned – you’ve got to work hard to get the information you want.


Andrew Sassoli-Walker, whose photos I have featured here from time to time, has done a homage to Oriana on his website. It includes one image for every year it was in service (though the pictures may not come from every year). In particular there are images from her arrival at Southampton in 1995, and from her first season. Great images which will back many memories for many people.

Here’s a link to the images.

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There were several announcements yesterday (8 August 2019) which seemed to be indicating that as from September, cruise ships would be banned from Venice! I’ve been covering issues concerning cruise ships and Venice for quite some years, so obviously this story interested me. On investigation, the truth seems to be – well, I’m not quite sure what the truth is, but I’m pretty sure that cruise ships won’t be banned from Venice come September.

There is currently no ban in place preventing cruise ships from visiting Venice. Discussions concerning the future of cruise ships using the Giudecca Canal have been ongoing for several years and those discussions continue today without any conclusion – CLIA Statement

Before we go any further, readers might like to read this previous post which, I think, summarises at least some of the issues.

How did the latest imbroglio start? Continue Reading »

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Update: here’s a link to a YouTube video of Oriana’s arrival into what looks like a grey and windy Southampton this morning.

It’s time to take note of Oriana’s forthcoming departure from P&O. She’s currently on her last day at sea as a P&O ship – she’s due to dock in Southampton tomorrow morning (9 August) and disembark the passengers from her final cruise with P&O, after which she will be transferred to her new owners and will sail to China. I know that she’s a much-loved ship, and I’m sure that there will be a lot of emotion tomorrow. I’m pleased that her last cruise has been trouble-free (as far as I know) and has been a typical Oriana cruise –  a lengthy voyage into northern waters as far as Iceland, the far north of Norway, and the Lofoten islands.

It’s difficult to remember today just how exciting her arrival was in 1995. By that time P&O had owned Princess Cruises for several years, had taken over Sitmar Cruises in 1988, and had inherited several newly-built and on-order ships from them, but all of these had been passed to Princess. Even an earlier newbuild, Royal Princess (1984), had been passed to Princess Cruises (although she later came to P&O as the much-loved Artemis). Oriana was therefore the first new build for P&O cruises. Indeed, she really was the first newly-built ship for P&O as a cruise line – all previous ships had originally been built as liners and had been converted to cruising as the ocean line market vanished. So ships such as the original Arcadia from 1954, the original Oriana from 1960 and of course Canberra from 1961 sailed for a few years at least as cruise ships. By the early 90s only Canberra was left, and although much-loved, she was showing her age. Oriana was therefore designed and ordered to be almost a modern Canberra. Much attention was taken of what worked well on Canberra that could be transferred to the new ship. We hadn’t started cruising at that time, but I remember a lot of press coverage of her at the time – she was definitely presented as the pride of the British merchant fleet (along with some regret that she couldn’t have been built in a British yard).

In one interesting respect Oriana was actually a small step backwards, in technical terms. Canberra had possessed the then revolutionary electric propulsion system – that is, her engines (steam turbines) were coupled direct to generators which produced electricity, and the actual propulsion motors were electrically driven – there was no mechanical connection between the engines and propellers. In the case of Oriana, however, this was changed, and she possessed four large diesel engines which were mechanically coupled to her propulsion equipment. Other ships built in the same yard (Meyer Werft, Papenburg) at around the same time – e.g. the Celebrity Cruises ‘Century’ class – possessed the same configuration, and all these ships ended up suffering from vibration in the aft section of the ship when they were moving quickly. This was especially so at the back of the aft main dining room. Oriana was famous for this problem. I never experienced it on her, but I do remember a shaky evening on Galaxy, one of the Century class, when we were hustling across the eastern Mediterranean in order to bag a berth at Mykonos the following day.

At the time Oriana, with a tonnage of just under 70,000, was regarded as a large ship. She was in fact just about the same tonnage as the QE2, and was regarded by some as having surpassed the Cunard ship. Later, of course, when both Cunard and P&O were both under the Carnival umbrella, any such competition was dialled-back. In any case, within a few years there were many other ships that were bigger, including a number owned by P&O – the Sun Princess class of the mid-90s (of which Oceana is one) had a tonnage of around 77,000, and the first ships of the slightly later Grand Princess class breached both the 100,000 tonnage barrier, and the panamax beam dimension. P&O invested in larger ships as appropriate, including ships from both those classes, but retained Oriana. Over time she came to be grand lady of the fleet, representing P&O’s tradition, and her passengers responded. Policies such as dress codes were the same on all ships, but they seem to be better observed on Oriana (and on Aurora, to be fair). Originally designed as a family ship and therefore possessing children’s facilities, she was remodelled during a refit in 2011 and returned to the fleet as an ‘Adults only’ ship. (At the time the term used was the slight-blunter ‘child free’!) Over time other changes have been made – additional, speciality restaurants have made their appearance, for example. One favourite feature was never changed, and that was her forward-facing Crow’s Nest, and neither did her wide, wrap-around promenade.

We don’t know for certain why P&O have decided to get rid of her, but I can make guesses. I would assume that, even with refits, she’s not as economical to run as other ships. For one thing she’s a bit small for true economies of scale to apply, and for another, that mechanical configuration can’t be as efficient as the more typical electrical transmission and propulsion. For another, in recent years she has suffered from various mechanical breakdowns, and I would assume that these must have been ever more expensive to repair, given that the equipment was so unusual. Finally, there was the unavoidable fact that she had very few balcony cabins – just one deck thereof, in fact, and that deck was home to the higher-priced cabins such as suites and mini-suites. The designers of the slightly-later Aurora and the Sun Princess class, at about the same size as Oriana, found a way of providing three decks of balcony cabins by extending the superstructure outwards by about 5 feet above a certain level on the hull, and this space was used to provide balcony space. Oriana never had this feature, and I suppose it was too expensive to consider retro-fitting it. My assumption is that this began to adversely affect her popularity.

We cruised on Oriana twice. Both were just short cruises, three or four nights as I recall. One was in 2012, and was one of the Grand Event cruises – indeed, it was the shortest and therefore cheapest cruise departing that day. We certainly enjoyed both of these cruises, but I also remember thinking that our cabin (a standard Outside cabin) was not very big and that there was not a lot of storage space. I’m not sure I would have wanted to cruise on her for much longer than the time we actually did. Here are the links to my summary pages for the posts I did from them: the earlier cruise here, and the Grand Event cruise here.

Tomorrow sees her last activity as a P&O ship, after which she will sail to China and a new career as a casino ship.

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…it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf programme this winter season

As I’m pretty sure most people already know, P&O have cancelled this winter’s programme of cruises around the Arabian Gulf on Oceana. This is a result of the continuing tension over the seizure of ships in the Gulf and around the strait of Hormuz, and P&O have said the following: “The increased tension in the region highlighted by the attacks on tankers in the Straits in recent months and the detention of a British-flagged tanker by the Iranian authorities means as a British company flying the Red Ensign it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf programme this winter season.

Passengers already booked on cruises on Oceana in the Arabian Gulf this winter will be given a full refund, and these are being processed now. A fresh programme of cruises on Oceana is being arranged at short notice, although details of them are limited at the moment; however, there has been a mention of a “pre-Christmas 35-night cruise to the Caribbean”. It also looks as if the revised programme will feature sailings from Southampton to the Iberian peninsula, and to the Canary Islands. There is also a mention of a 10% reduction in the price of a 2019/20 fly-cruises to the Caribbean (on Azura and Britannia) or an Arabian Gulf cruise on Oceana in winter 2020/2021 – at the moment, that programme is still planned to go ahead. (However, a booking on these cruises must be made by 31 September to attract the 10% saving.) It’s also suggested that Arcadia’s call at Dubai in March 2020, towards the end of her World cruise, will still take place.

P&O are not paying compensation for the cancellation – their view is that paragraphs 40 and 41 of their booking conditions removes their liability for compensation if the change to the package (in this case, the cancellation) is as a result of “force majeure” (paragraph 41).

I think we have to agree that P&O’s decision is the right one in the circumstances. I don’t really believe that the Iranian navy would in fact seize or attack a British-flagged cruise ship, but there is always a possibility, and at the present time P&O are certainly aware of the risks. We also don’t know the substance of the advice that P&O have received from the defence and security services. Of course, Sod’s Law demands that given that the cruises have now been cancelled, the tensions in the Gulf will evaporate and by mid-October, the date of the first planned cruise in the Gulf, the situation will be back to normal. P&O are probably in a no-win situation here, but cancelling the cruises is the safest choice.

Regular readers will know that I did a Gulf cruise on Oceana on my own earlier this year. Here’s a link to my summary page for that cruise, and that page contains further links into the detailed posts.

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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.


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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