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Moving the Blog….

So, for my 1,001st post, here’s a bit of boring technical information.

I’ve had this blog for almost 10 years, and for most of that time it’s had the address ‘tomscruiseblog.co.uk’. This is itself mapped onto the original, basic ‘.wordpress.com’ address that the blog originally went under, and which is actually still there – the actual basic address for the blog is ‘tomtotley.wordpress.com’ . Recently I was able to get my hands on the ‘tomscruiseblog dot com’ domain name and I’ve registered that, so fairly soon) that will become the main address of the blog. However, all being well the .co.uk address will continue to work – I gather that I can map that address onto the new one – so there’ll be no need to change links. However, the ‘tomtotley.wordpress dot com’ address won’t work after I’ve made this move so if anyone is still using that you’ll need to switch to tomscruiseblog dot com (or tomscruiseblog dot co dot uk).

Just to complicate matters further, I’m also moving the blog away from its present site to a new one. The present blog has been hosted by wordpress.com for all of its life, and it’s been effective. However, the level of subscription I’ve got (basically, the free deal..) gives me very restricted access to amending the site – I can’t add plugins, I can’t make changes to the css, and I get very restricted information about my visitors. Moving to an independent hosting provider will give me all of those. There won’t be any changes immediately, but going forward – who knows?

I’ll probably trigger the domain name change and the hosting provider move later this week. I’ll leave the tomtotley.wordpress dot com site in place for a while, until I’m sure that my visitors are finding the new site, but sooner or later it will go. I’ll do another post when I’ve made these first changes.

We plan to restart the operation of Swan Hellenic in early 2018 with a new ship and new voyages…..

About a year ago the All Leisure Group collapsed, taking with them two cruise lines, Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. Some parts of All Leisure Group live on – the Travelsphere operation, which was apparently profitable, was taken over by G Adventures and has continued to trade.

G Adventures also took over the Swan Hellenic brand, and made statements to the effect that they would make an announcement about the line’s future sometime in 2017. (I did a post about this here.) We’re now into 2018 and there has been no word. There is still a basic web page for Swan Hellenic, but it just repeats G Adventures’ statement and asks for contact details.

I tried contact G Adventures last week to enquire about their plans for Swan Hellenic but received a reply that pointed me back to the Swan Hellenic webpage. Here’s the text:

If you would like to receive updates regarding Swan Hellenic, please sign up for the annoucement emails here: https://swanhellenic.com/

So I did this and on the response screen following the registration page there’s this further message:-

We plan to restart the operation of Swan Hellenic in early 2018 with a new ship and new voyages that will continue the brand’s extraordinary legacy. Itineraries will be announced this summer.

So perhaps the best way to find out what’s happening with Swan Hellenic would be to register your interest on the Swan Hellenic web page.

But I would counsel anyone doing so to not hold their breath while waiting. Running a cruise line is so very different from what G Adventures currently does (and very successfully indeed, I should say) that I’m not surprised that they’re taking longer than they anticipated. Indeed, I’ll actually be surprised if G Adventures are able to bring this plan to fruition at all – it really is so very different from what they do. Perhaps they’re actually looking to sell the brand on to a company who have the relevant experience and resources.

Finally, it looks as if the Voyages of Discovery operation has died completely – there have never been any plans to resurrect it.

This is a holding page until I get the whole blog transferred here from the .co.uk site. In the meantime:

Here’s a link

to the existing .co.uk blog.

I did a post on my other blog, Tom’s Travel Blog, about this earlier today. Strictly speaking it’s not cruise-related, but it occurs to me that just as I have sometimes used Premier Inn’s ‘SleepParkFly’ deals when flying out of Heathrow on non-cruise trips, other people may use them when going on fly cruises. So I decided to cross-post it here.

The point of all this is that at the moment it’s not possible to book a Premier Inn ‘SleepParkFly’ package at any of their Heathrow hotels. Here’s a link to the post with all the details on my Travel Blog, and here’s a general link to Tom’s Travel Blog.

In its short existence the Viking ocean cruise line has won a lot of praise and many awards. Going against the run of the mass-market lines, it has embraced a smaller scale – its medium-sized ships (48,000 tons) can take just 930 passengers each. There’s no nonsense with that being ‘lower berths only’, either – there are no ‘upper berths’ on a Viking Cruise ship, it’s just two people per cabin. And off course all cabins have a balcony.

So far, so typical for a luxury cruise line. What is not so typical is the way they’re expanding. They currently have 4 ships at sea – Viking Star launched the line in 2015, Viking Sea arrived in 2016, and was followed in turn by Viking Sky and Viking Sun in 2017. Viking Orion will join them in 2018, with a sixth ship, as yet unnamed, launching in 2019.

Within the last few days the line has confirmed a further four new ships, to be delivered in 2021, 2022 (two) and 2023, bringing the total to ten ships. Subject to small changes to detailed design points based on the experience gained from the early ships, all ten will be identical. Certainly they’ll all be the same size, have the same passenger capacity, and exude the same Scandinavian minimalist design.

It’s only fair to say that prices on them are above the mass-market average – it looks as if it’s at least £200 per person per night for a basic balcony cabin in mid-season. But for that money it looks as if you get a very interesting and high quality product. I have to admit, we’re tempted. I can’t see that we’d be able to do it every year – possibly just the once, in fact! – but sometime in the next few years Val will be joining me in retirement, and a cruise on a Viking Ocean ship would be an ideal way of marking the event. Up until now the fleet has been spread very thinly around the world, but as the number of ships grow so will the number of cruises in different locations. Watch this space…..

I’m late with this story, but I’ve only just learned that Oriana’s planned 50 night cruise from 6 January to 25 February has been cancelled. P&O have instead arranged for Oriana to have some ‘essential maintenance’. I can’t find any real information as to what that maintenance will consist of, but there are suggestions on various forums that it might be for propulsion. (Oriana has a unique propulsion method within the P&O fleet – her engines have a mechanical drive to the propellers. Every other ship in the fleet follows has a system where the diesel engines are directly connected to electricity generators, and the propulsion motors are electrically-powered.)

I gather that there is considerable unhappiness among those who had booked this cruise. This is especially so since the cancellation announcement (21 November) was after the date for final payment which, given the length of the cruise, will have been a not-inconsiderable sum. Further unhappiness seems to have been caused by what is regarded as ungenerous compensation for the cancellation. As far as I can make out, this is as follows:

  • A full refund (of course);
  • A credit of 5% of the amount paid for the cancelled cruise, against the price of a future cruise;
  • Passengers will have until December 2019 to make the booking against which this credit can be taken;
  • Passengers will be credited with the 500 Peninsular Club points that they would have earned on the cancelled cruise.

Although the emergency maintenance is expected to take just 3 weeks (i.e. 21 nights), P&O have not announced any replacement cruises for the period between the end of the maintenance and and the next cruise, scheduled to start on 25 February. It wouldn’t surprise me therefore if there were some additional cruises announced at very short notice in late January – I don’t expect P&O will want to leave Oriana idle for that period. But that’s just a guess.

Coming after the passenger unhappiness caused by the sale of Adonia, this is unfortunate. There are some conspiracy theories swirling around – for example, that the 50 night cruise had sold very badly and was going to make a huge loss – but until I learn otherwise I’m going to assume that P&O are being honest, and that something requiring urgent, lengthy maintenance has indeed arisen. If I learn more I’ll report it here, of course.

Let me finish by saying that I recognise that passengers on the cancelled cruise must have been very disappointed, and have every right to feel very upset. I also think P&O could have been a bit more forthcoming about the reasons for the urgent maintenance.

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Celebrity Edge starts cruising in just over 12 months’ time. As far as I can see her first cruise will start on 16 December 2018, and of course cabins are already on sale for cruise in her first season. This will be in the Caribbean, before she sails for Europe in April 2018. But how much do passengers know about the layout of the ship and her attractions? – not a lot…..

The image above, which I’ve taken from the Celebrity UK website today, is of Deck 5. This will be one of the main service decks – this is where there will be bars, perhaps restaurants, guest services, shops, and all the usual things – but as you can see Celebrity are still being remarkably coy. And this is how it’s been since they announced this new class.

I have no idea when they are going to reveal the details. Logically, it ought not to be until they take delivery of the ship, but that won’t be until late November 2018. (She’s being built at STX France in St. Nazaire.) If they reveal the details before that, my first question will be “why couldn’t you tell us all this sooner?”. It all seems very strange. Certainly if I were interested in booking I’d hold off until I knew more about her.

In fairness I ought to acknowledge that we’ve had the full plans for the accommodation decks (decks 7 to 12, plus bits of other decks e.g. deck 3) plus most of the details of the upper decks for some time. Just not the main service decks….

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Oceana in Hamburg

Above is grab from a webcam shot of Oceana, safely tucked-up at the B+V ship repair dry dock in Hamburg. I believe she arrived some time yesterday evening.

Still no real information from P&O about any major work, so it does appear that the aspects of this refit that passengers will see will simple be redecoration and refreshes rather than any dramatic changes. Additionally, of course, the opportunity will be taken to do a significant amount of technical work on engine and propulsion equipment and locations. She’ll be in Hamburg for nearly two weeks.

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Oceana arriving at Southampton in the early morning

Specifically, will Oceana’s Cafe Jardin be converted to the next Glass House?

Oceana is going in for a refit in a few days’ time – as far as I can see she’ll return from her current cruise (E722) on 29 November and her next cruise is E725 starting on 17 December. Allowing for transit times to and from Hamburg, that allows 14 days or so for the refit.

When this refit became known about (during spring and summer) there was considerable speculation on various forums that the work would include conversion of Cafe Jardin to a Glasshouse. For example, there were reports that officers on Oceana had told passengers that the conversion would happen. (Although you’d think by now that people would have realised that you should always take casual comments by crew members, even officers, with a generous pinch of salt.) Some people were in favour of the conversion, but I think it’s fair to report that the majority view expressed was one of regret if the conversion went ahead.

However for several reasons it’s now looking as if it may not:

  • the deck plans for next year on the P&O site continue to mark the space as ‘Cafe Jardin’;
  • and in a page on the P&O website there’s an article from the design consultancy that’s handled the changes (for both Oceana and Arcadia) that resolutely does not mention anything about Cafe Jardin. For Oceana there are references to outdoor areas, the Terrace Bar and the Yacht & Compass.

Of course, none of this is definitive. I’m hoping that P&O will make some sort of announcement when Oceana departs for Hamburg giving details of what the refit will cover, so we may have solid information by the end of this week. Indeed, it’s always possible that the Glass House approach could be implemented in the existing Cafe Jardin. There was another announcement from P&O this week announcing new menus for the Glass House with references to new food items and new draft beers. Here’s a link to this page. Given that the Glass House concept may perhaps be being revised from “a wine bar that does some bistro food” to something like “a bistro that serves drinks, including a wide range of wines by the glass” it wouldn’t take a full refurbishment of spaces that aren’t branded as ‘Glass House’ to be able to offer something similar.

My interest in the changes to Oceana is due to the fact that we will be cruising on her (for the first time) in September, of course – see here for some other info about that.

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Our next cruise

Once again it has been so long since I last posted that I ought to apologise. For whatever reason, nothing has caught my eye, or my interest in the last couple of months. But I have finally managed to crank the old brain into gear, and produced this pearl.

I posted some while ago that when we were on Azura this summer we had booked our next cruise. This will be a fly-cruise! – our first for nearly 10 years. It will be in September 2018, on Oceana, and just for seven nights – we’ll be doing the Adriatic section of her itinerary, with calls at Ravenna, Venice, Dubrovnik and Split. In addition we’ll be prefacing the cruise with two nights in Malta (the cruise starts and finishes at Malta) which we’re also doing through P&O, by using their ‘City Stay’ add-on package.

At the time we booked the cruise the flights were uncertain, and the documentation we received was a bit confusing – on the one hand it said it was a “round trip from Manchester” but on the other hand it said that the outbound flight would be from Gatwick. All of this was because at the time of booking (June 2017) flight details for September 2018 weren’t known. Obviously P&O would be chartering the regular flights for the start and end dates of the cruise itself, but not for the day we would actually be departing which will be two days before the cruise start date.

Now they are known, and we’ve got exactly what we wanted. Our outbound flight will be from Manchester with Air Malta. We’ll depart just before 11am, and arrive in Malta just after 3pm local time. That’s a pretty civilised time for a flight – we could even just about drive over the Manchester that morning (we’d want to be at the airport by 8 o’clock). However I suspect Val would prefer to not do that, so I think I hear the siren call of the Premier Inn on Runger Lane….

Coming back we’ll be on the Thomson Airline charter flight, departing mid-morning and arriving in Manchester early afternoon. We couldn’t really ask for anything more convenient.

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