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O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I’ve been viewing some YouTube videos by a couple who post there as ‘Sean & Steff’. They are keen cruisers and they’re American – I think they live in Florida, so very handy for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, etc. This spring they did a couple of cruises with P&O: Ventura to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge and Guernsey, and Azura to the fjords. They did a number of posts for the Ventura cruise and those for the Azura cruise are starting to appear now.

Their take on the ships and the cruises is from an American point of view, and of course it’s always interesting to get a different perspective on something that we are so familiar with. I was almost nervous when I started watching. But….

They loved it!

They specifically enjoyed and complimented:

  • the embarkation process!
  • the food!! (even in the MDR!!)
  • …let alone the food in the speciality restaurants, e.g. Sindhu and the evening buffet!!!
  • and they complimented the muster drill procedure – the first time they’ve ever actually put on life jackets!

Here’s a link to their YouTube Channel home page. It’s well worth a visit.

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The US Government this week announced new restrictions on travel from the US to Cuba, including by cruise ship.

Actually, I gather that travel to Cuba from the US has been generally banned anyway, but there were a couple of ways round the ban that were tolerated by the US government – these easements were introduced during President Obama’s administration. The first was something called “group people-to-people educational” travel, while the other was to allow cruise ships departing from US ports to call at Cuban ports. (You’ll all remember that Carnival Corp set up a new line, fathom, to do this and pinched – er, transferred – Adonia from P&O for that purpose.) Now the current US administration has reversed that easement and as from this week travel to Cuba from the US has once again become very difficult. The reason given in the announcement by the US Treasury Secretary is because Cuba has continued “to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes.”

Cruise lines are understandably in some confusion over this. Royal Caribbean, for example, is saying on its website that they are “analyzing the details to understand the impact to future sailings”. However, they have already cancelled the calls at Cuba for sailings from ports in Florida today (5 June) and tomorrow. It’s also unclear what effect the new US policy will have on calls at Cuba by cruise lines not based in the US, e.g. Fred. Olsen who do have some cruises that include Cuba.

I’ll keep watching this one. In the meantime, here’s a link to a CNN webpage that carries the story.

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Many readers will already have read about the collision yesterday between MSC Opera, a cruise ship of about 66,000 tons, and a river cruise boat. The collision happened as the Opera was passing along the Giudecca Canal. The ship went out of control and went into the quayside where the river cruise boat was moored. Some passengers on the river boat ended up in the water, and there were some injuries – I’m not clear if these were the same people as went into the water. Fortunately there don’t seem to have been any fatalities.

There are still a lot of uncertainties about the actual events. There’s a persistent account that the Opera was actually under tow, or had tug assistance, as she was passing along the Giudecca canal and that the line between Opera and the tug snapped, or failed in some way, allowing Opera to move freely. There’s another account, however, supported by transmissions from the pilot to the shore, that suggests that Opera may have been transiting the Giudecca on her own power when control was lost, and it was at this point that the tugs attempted to bring her back under control. I’m assuming that there will be an investigation, though who will do it I don’t know – Opera is registered in the Panamanian registry.

This has immediately restarted the debate on what to do about cruise ships transiting the Giudecca canal to reach Venice cruise terminal. Just to recap: the Giudecca canal – (which isn’t actually a ‘canal’ as we understand it – a better translation would be ‘channel’) is the body of water that passes to the south of St Mark’s square & the Doge’s Palace, etc, and then on between the main island of Venice and Giudecca island. The cruise terminal is at the western end of this body of water; in order to reach the open Adriatic, ships must pass along this channel and then into a maintained deep channel through the Venetian Lagoon out to an entrance to the Adriatic some mile to the east. In fact, this is the only route for cruise ships to get from the Adriatic to the cruise terminal, and vice-versa.

In recent years there have been strong protests about the movement of cruise ships along the Giudecca and through St Mark’s Basin, on several grounds. First, that the passage of such very large ships creates a wash that penetrates the shallow water canals of Venice, erodes their banks and damages the under-water infrastructure; and secondly, that cruise ships are simple horribly out of scale in that place.

As a result of these protests various regulations have been imposed, removed, re-imposed…. it’s quite confusing. At one point, pre-2014, there seemed to be no restriction on ships passing along the Giudecca (as long as their draught wasn’t too great) so some very large ships were passing through that channel. (There were many pictures of the 137,000 ton MSC Divina doing so at that time, for example.) Continue Reading »

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I gather that Britannia was very delayed getting into Southampton yesterday (25 May 2019) at the end of a 7 night Fjords cruise – I believe she didn’t dock until around 3pm. This, of course, affected both disembarkation and embarkatio, both of which were very delayed. Embarkation eventually started early evening, and Britannia sailed for Cherbourg at just after 11pm.

I understand that the cause of the problem was engine trouble, but at the moment it’s not clear what the nature of the problem was. I can only assume that it was fixed, as Marine Traffic showed Britannia reaching just over 20 knots on the passage to Cherbourg, which I guess would not have been possible if the problem was persisting.

Apparently P&O emailed passengers on Friday to advise them to delay their arrival into Southampton by five hours, but it seems that a lot of people didn’t receive it, or didn’t notice it – there are accounts of people arriving at the normal time and then having to sit in their cars in and around the dock for a number of hours. The coaches stuck to their timetable, apparently, although there was a story that after his last pickup one driver visited every service station on the road between Leicester and Southampton in order to delay arrival! I assume that coach passengers arriving on time (which would normally be during the early and mid afternoon) had to sit in the waiting lounge in the terminal.

I’m not clear yet what arrangements were made for dinner yesterday evening, but I imagine it would be open seating wherever people could be accommodated. There was also a suggestion that at some point there was a distribution of sandwiches to those waiting in cars.

Finally, I gather that P&O has implemented £20 additional OBC for those passengers delayed embarkation. Some people are happy with this, some are not. No word about anything for the delayed arrivers – at least one passenger has pointed out that, with their long drive home (possibly to Scotland), they were having to book an unplanned night at a Premier Inn en route because they weren’t starting their drive home until mid-afternoon, they would not be able to do the whole drive in one go. This has led to significant extra expense, of course.

If i pick up more details I’ll post them here.

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There was some excitement earlier this week (mid April 2019) following a story on the BBC News website about “unenforceable deposit and payment demands” in the event of cancellation by the customer. There seemed to be a belief that there had been a change in the law regarding the amounts that holiday (and cruise) companies could hang on to in the event of a late cancellation because of unforeseeable and significant personal events – that is, the amounts usually referred to as ‘cancellation charges’. There was even a belief expressed that the “new regulations” meant that companies could no longer hang onto money at all, but had to refund all payments made in the event of a customer cancelling.

Unfortunately – it’s not that simple. I’ve done some research and this is what I’ve found:-

  • the story on the BBC News website was a report on comments made by a senior official from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA);
  • the CMA was actually launching a campaign, in conjunction with the travel industry, to “help holiday and travel businesses improve the clarity of their terms and conditions”. The campaign is calling on businesses in the industry to ensure that they are using fair terms and conditions in their customer contracts. They say that businesses need to be “upfront and clear with their customers about charges and fees, especially in the event of a customer cancellation”. The campaign is not calling for any change in the law.

So new laws or regulations, I’m afraid – the comments are a restatement of the existing position i.e. that while companies can say whatever they like in their terms and conditions, those Ts&Cs have got to be fair. If they aren’t, they may not be enforceable. The problem, of course, is that the only way to test whether Ts&Cs are fair is via the courts, and that’s always likely to be more expensive than the amount at risk. Continue Reading »

Oriana entering Ijmuiden Lock, July 4 2012

Last weekend Azura became the first P&O ship to call at Ijmuiden – for Amsterdam – instead of actually getting into Amsterdam proper. It would seem that shuttle bus arrangements were not good, and there have been many complaints.

Actually, the complaints began some time ago when P&O announced that they were switching the port from Amsterdam to Ijmuiden. P&O have been coy with regard to the reasons for doing so, but there are several theories:-

  • The city of Amsterdam has imposed a tourist tax of €8 on cruise passengers berthing in Amsterdam itself. This tax was announced in December 2018, for implementation from the beginning of 2019. It’s fair to say that the cruise lines, via their industry association the CLIA, was not happy about the short notice they were given. Note that visitors arriving by air, train, or road do not have to pay the tax;
  • It’s also possible that the port fees were also increased, again possibly at short notice;
  • A third possibility is that there have apparently been a number of missed calls into Amsterdam, because the relevant ships were unable to safely enter the Ijmuiden locks. They’re wide enough – the the largest (currently) has a width of 50 metres compared with Azura’s (and Ventura’s) breadth of 36 metres, or Britannia’s beam of 44 metres (though that one must be a bit tight). The real problem apparently is the wind – the most recent classes of ship are so much larger generally than previous ships, with many more decks, that they can catch the wind and be blown in the wrong direction in a way that smaller ships, e.g. Aurora or Oceana, aren’t.

Whatever the reason, cruise passengers are not happy with the change, especially those on cruises which were originally sold as being “to Amsterdam”. Continue Reading »

Aurora Refit 2019

Beginning in a week or so, Aurora will be having a refit. This will be in  conjunction with her switch from being a ‘family friendly’ ship to being ‘adults only’.

She’s due back from her present cruise, R903, to Norway and to see the Northern Lights (hopefully), on 23 March, and her next cruise, R905, begins on 8 April. That leaves a gap of 16 days, which after allowing for transit between Southampton and either Bremerhaven or Hamburg, leaves a bit less than 14 days to do the work. All of this suggests that the refit will be quite small in scope.

And indeed, that seems to be the case. Below is the only significant change I can see – changes to deck D. The children’s facilities will be removed, a number of new cabins (Inside, Balcony and Deluxe Balcony) will be installed, and it looks as if the Terrace Pool area will be tidied up. I can’t decide how I feel about that, but I had hoped that they might do something more adventurous with that space. Could they have turned it into a seriously good cocktail bar, partly inside and partly outdoors? I don’t know, and in any case there’s no point speculating – it’s going to be more cabins.

I’ll try to get more information as the refit approaches.

 

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Abu Dhabi beach

I’ve done a page summarising the various posts I did while i was on this cruise, and giving my final thoughts. You can find it here.

Back home from Oceana

Well, I’m home. Yesterday was a long, hard day – in UK time terms I got up at 2am, started travelling at 4am, and walked through my front door (or staggered through it) at 10:45pm. I was hanging around Dubai Airport for five hours before boarding the plane, then take-off was delayed, and then there was seven and a half hours for the flight. Getting back into the UK, i.e. through UK Border, was remarkably quick, helped by the fact that I was one of the first off the plane. But then it took over half an hour before my second bag appeared on the carousel, and that meant I’d missed the train back to Sheffield that I was aiming for and had to wait an hour for the next one. That was annoying.

Still, at least I’d planned for that – I’d bought an off-peak ticket for the train rather than an Advance. And it’s also a lesson that there can be a *lot* of bags on an A380 – they just kept coming and coming. It’s just the luck of the draw – there was a gap of twenty minutes between my first bag appearing and the second. Had takeoff not been delayed I’d have made the earlier train, of course. Though looking at Flight Radar (and a couple of other sites) suggests that on about 1 occasion in 3 recently, that flight (EK019) has been delayed by 15 minutes or more. Which in the grand scheme of things is excellent – 15 minutes late arriving after a journey of over 3,500 miles? That’s an extraordinary achievement, actually, which we often forget.

Sometime in the next few days I’ll do a summary post, bur now all I can say is that I’m home, I enjoyed the cruise, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. For now, here’s a link to a collection of the posts from the cruise.

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Disembarkation

I was packed and ready before 8 o’clock, the listed time for independent travellers to start their disembarkation. In the event I joined the end of the party disembarking at 8 for the Emirates flight to Heathrow. It all went smoothly.

Once off the ship we all had to get our main luggage. This had been arranged in a covered area by ‘label colour’. For example, all of those on that Heathrow flight had yellow bag tags, and all the bags with that colour tag were stacked together. Altogether there were nine different colours for flights, plus another colour for independent travellers. I found my bag very quickly and equally quickly found a taxi. There were about half a dozen or so waiting, and not much business for them. So I was straight into the taxi and off to the airport.

The taxi fare was 120 Dirhams which seemed very high, so I think I was fiddled on that one. But I didn’t feel like arguing and in any case I had plenty of dirhams. But on reflection I don’t think he had the meter on.

So that was me walking into the airport just before 8:30. I’d done the online check in a couple of days ago, so I just went to the bag drop counter and dropped my bags (obviously….). Then there was an exit passport check which gave me another stamp, a quick security scan, and I was airside at 9 o’clock.

I’m afraid I don’t know if passengers with P&O flights had to go through check in or not. I’ve done a number of round trips with Emirates, I’m an Emirates Skywards member, I’d registered this trip with them, I’ve got the App, and that gives access to on-line check in. But that might not be true of other passengers.

So now I’m just hanging around the airport waiting for boarding. All in all, it’s gone pretty smoothly, and certainly I haven’t found myself in any long queues. But of course other passengers’ experience might be different.

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