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I’ve done quite a lot of posts over recent years about the continuing arguments about cruising into and out of Venice. Here’s a link to the collection of posts. During the early summer several cruise lines which have done day calls at Venice, e.g. Royal Caribbean, have announced that they will in future call at Ravenna rather than Venice. Of course, these calls at Venice haven’t been happening this summer anyway, and in the case of the lines doing day calls the earliest they would restart would be some time next spring.

In August there was a further development. The two cruise lines doing turnarounds at Venice, Costa and MSC, announced that they would no longer do so – in future they would use either Trieste or Genoa. In the case of these two cruise lines, cruises either have already restarted (in late August) or will do so shortly (early September), and part of the reason for the switch is that the port facilities at Genoa and Trieste allow for easier application of social distancing rules and other required procedures during the Covid-19 outbreak. There’s no indication if this is a permanent move.

In fact, these two lines had already shifted many of their cruises away from Venice. Since the introduction a few years ago of the size regulations on ships transmitting the Giudecca Canal on their way into Venice, the largest ships belonging to these two lines were shifted to other ports as they exceeded the limits. The only Costa or MSC ships that have still been visiting Venice have been their smaller ships with a tonnage of less than 89,000 tons.

Is this the end for cruising into and out of Venice? I have a feeling that it might be the end of the traditional sail-in along the Giudecca canal. However, if the Italian authorities ever build the alternative approach to the cruise terminal, which requires a deep channel to be dredged from the existing channel up the mainland coastline, then I think the ships will return. The alternative is to provide alternative ways of getting from the alternative ports into historic Venice, either by rail or road, and those will bring their own problems. People want to visit Venice, and it seems unfair to say that visitors by air and rail may do so, but cruise passengers may not.

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BlackWatchBerthedRouen_1200
Black Watch berthed at Rouen

Fred. Olsen Cruises have recently announced that their two oldest ships, Black and Boudicca, are being retired. They will be replaced by the two ships that Fred. Olsen bought from Holland America line in July this year, the Amsterdam and the Rotterdam.

The two new ships – to be named Bolette and Borealis – will take over the existing planned itineraries in 2021 and 2022 of Boudicca and Black Watch respectively. Bolette will be home-ported in Dover, and Borealis will be be home-ported in Liverpool.

I’m sad to see Black watch and Boudicca go. They were truly classic ships. Built as sister ships in the early 1970s for the Royal Viking Line (and originally named Royal Viking Star and Royal Viking Sky), for a few years they were at the high end of cruising. As cruising developed both ships were passed on from line to line, and ended up in situations in which their classic style did not really fit. However, you’d have to say that when they were bought by Fred. Olsen (Black Watch in 1996, Boudicca in 205) they were found a new lease of life and have become much-loved by Fred. Olsen passengers.

Sadly, there won’t even be the opportunity for passengers to take ‘Retirement’ cruises on either of them – in view of the current Covid-19 restrictions with Fred Olsen not running cruises until at least the end of this year, they have aleady sailed last cruises for Fred. Olsen. They have announced, however, that there will be ‘virtual sailing’ for each ship, starting on 24 August. I might just embark on one of them myself.

We sailed on Black Watch on a short cruise in December 2011 across the Channel to northern France – the picture at the top of this page was taken during that cruise. Here’s a link to the posts I did at that time from that cruise.

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This has been a summer of no cruising, but cruise ships everywhere – well, cruise ships wandering up and down the English Channel.

Here’s a link to a BBC News story about the phenomenon, complete with some pictures. I think a number of would-be passengers have found this very frustrating!

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Update: Carnival Corporation has issued a statement saying “There is no truth to this rumour”. So that’s that… still, it was an interesting thought, and I still think that there must be a significant difference between the Cunard experience on Queen Mary 2 on the one hand, and on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the other.

There are rumours today about the future of Cunard. The line is presently owned by Carnival Corporation (and has been since the early 90s), but there are suggestions today that Carnival may want to divest themselves of the line, the brand and all of its ships (or maybe just two of them? – see below) to a dedicated operator. There is a suggestion that Carnival have had difficulty competing Cunard with the truly luxury lines.

Of course, it’s also true that, at the present time, Carnival Corporation would welcome some cash liquidity, and selling Cunard line would be a small, discrete package that might generate some cash. It might be that in normal times the sale would not have been contemplated (if, indeed, it is being contemplated now – these are just rumours), but these are not normal times.

Cunard operate three ships – Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria. The first of these is markedly different from the others. Queen Mary 2 is regarded as the last true ocean liner, even though she only went into service in 2004. When she did so she was the largest passenger ship ever built at 148,528 GT. The other two ships, however, are very different. They are modified ‘Vista’ class ships, with a GT figure of just over 90,000, and there are a number of these. Holland-America line has, I think, six similar ships, from the original Vista class ships onwards; P&O has one, the Arcadia (which was intended at one point to be a Cunard ship); and Costa cruises has a couple that are very similar to the two Cunarders. All these other lines are also owned by Carnival Corporation, of course.

There is one other characteristic of Cunard which is unusual, and that is the existence of what in practice is a continuation of old-style First Class. This is the ‘Grills’ class (actually, two classes, Queens’ Grills for those few passengers in the very best suites, and Princess Grill for passengers in other suites). The menus in the Grills restaurants are definitely better than in the Britannia restaurant (for non-suite passengers). It’s also the case that meals in the two Grills restaurants are cooked to order whereas meals in the Britannia are not. All of this contrasts with what generally happens in other cruise lines, in that passengers in suites share the same dining room and menu, etc, as all other passengers.

I’ve always wondered about Cunard’s policy in this regard. I can’t help feeling that passengers in the Grills classes must indeed be having a luxury experience, while other all other passengers must feel a little like second-class citizens – there are parts of the ship, and experiences on-board, that they simply don’t have access to, and that’s an odd situation today. Perhaps that’s why Cunard have found difficulty in selling their cruises as luxury cruises – for most passengers, they simply aren’t. This would be even more the case on board Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, where the environment is distinctly more ordinary than on Queen Mary 2. At least on that ship there is space and, I gather, a feeling of grandeur regardless of what class your cabin is.

But this is all speculation – we must wait to see if there’s any substance to it.

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I’ve learned (thanks to Malcolm Oliver) that Swan Hellenic are set to return, starting in late 2021. I’ve done a few posts in recent years about this line. They used to feature ‘cultural cruising’ – cruises around historic regions, with small ships, guest lecturers, etc. The line closed down in 2017 when their owners, All Leisure Group, went bankrupt. The brand and some others in the All Leisure Group were taken over by G Adventures, who promised that Swan Hellenic would return, but nothing actually transpired.

What’s happened now is that the Swan Hellenic brand has been taken over by private owners, fronted by an Andrea Zito. He apparently has a long history in the shipping and cruise industry, but very much behind the scenes. My guess would be that he is supported by a venture capital company.

That said, the plans are exciting. Swan Hellenic, like the one or two other cultural cruising lines, were previously distinguished by the considerable age and small size of their ships. Well, the revived Swan Hellenic is going even smaller with its ships – 150 passengers! – but they will be new builds. Two ships are apparently under construction (or will be, shortly), to be delivered in the second half of 2021 and early 2022. Cruises on the first one will start in late 2021. They will very much be ‘expedition cruises’ – the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Russian Far East, and destinations in the southern Pacific, including New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

It doesn’t sound as if they will be cheap – indeed, it seems as if the ships will be high-end luxury. The owner is quoted as saying that the line will be pitched at the same level as Le Ponant. The target market will be ‘very experienced travellers’, from the English-speaking world – the US, UK and Australia, plus Europe.

So this is all a bit different from Swan Hellenic’s previous incarnation. It will be interesting to see what happens. They’ve certainly got their timing right – I can’t really see any cruising happening this year, indeed not until well into 2021. The end of that year and early 2022 might be just the right time to launch a new brand, to meet the pent-up demand. I wish them good fortune. Here’s a link to their website.

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I recently did a post in which I outlined the UK Government’s advice on ‘cruise travel’. Essentially, it was – don’t. That advice has changed in the past few days. The advice now includes two additional paragraphs in which the UK Government attempts to define what they mean by ‘cruise travel’. Here are the additional paragraphs:-

Cruise ship travel means staying overnight for at least 1 night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households.

Our advice against cruises applies to international travel on a ship that is exclusively for pleasure or recreation, providing overnight accommodation and other leisure facilities such as entertainment venues or swimming pools.

That would appear to open up two possibilities. The first is that this permits uk passengers to go on river cruises in Europe. I understand that some of the river cruise lines are restarting, and I believe that many UK river cruise passengers will be happy with this change in the guidance.

The second possibility is that, read carefully, the advice against cruises does not apply to non-international travel on a cruise ship. Theoretically, a cruise completely within the UK would be within the guidance. But that’s purely theoretical – I can’t see it actually happening.

Here’s a link to the revised UK Government advice.

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There have been a couple of interesting announcements recently. First, Carnival Corporation announced yesterday (15 July) that it had sold four of Holland America Line’s (HAL) smaller ships, all dating from the mid-90s to (very) early 00s, and all of about 55,000 to 62,000 tons. Then early today, Fred. Olsen announced that they had bought two of them, the former Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The ships will undergo quick rebranding and will then join the rest of the Fred. Olsen fleet at Rosyth.

The two ships that Fred. Olsen have bought are very similar (if not identical). They are two of the four-strong ‘R’ class that was built for HAL between 1997 and 2000, with Rotterdam being the lead ship and Amsterdam the final one. They’re both around 62,000 tons, and have about 716 cabins – so a standard occupancy of just over 1400 passengers. They’re quite traditional ships – three accommodation decks low-down in the hull containing both ocean-view and inside cabins, then two entertainment decks including a two-floor theatre at the bow, a two-floor main dining room at the stern, plus of course the usual bars, shops, and (I think ) a speciality restaurant or two. Then above them are another two decks of cabins, this time with balconies, and these decks include a number of larger cabins, including suites. Finally there’s the lido deck with the usual pools and buffet restaurant, a sun deck above that, and what looks like a special Oasis area on a truncated deck at the very top. The middle of these upper decks (the one I’ve called a Sun deck) has a Crow’s Nest forward and a ‘club’ aft. Finally, both ships have a wrap-round promenade deck. All in all, a very traditional ship which seems on the face of it to match Fred. Olsen’s style perfectly.

I think this is a brave and confident move by Fred. Olsen. Over recent years I’ve been hearing many complaints from P&O’s traditional passengers that P&O was not giving them what they wanted – that they kept getting rid of the smaller ships (Artemis and the smaller Adonia come to mind), that their traditional cruise style was going (for example, the end of silver service in the main dining room), and there was an endless drive towards ever-bigger and ever-glitzier ships – which those passengers didn’t want. The departure of Oriana a couple of years ago was especially lamented, as is the departure now of Oceana. Once cruising restarts I think that all of those customers will be able to find a new home with Fred. Olsen as I’m convinced that these two ships can provide a very strong, traditional cruise experience, and Fred. Olsen have the experience to deliver just that.

There is one area of uncertainty, of course. Will the arrival of these new ships result in the departure of any of Fred. Olsen’s current fleet? Well, there’s no hint at the moment, and in any case there is so much uncertainty about cruising that it’s hard to make any forecasts at all. If Fred. Olsen can grab enough of the traditional cruise market from other lines then they might be able to keep all six ships; but if not, then something will have to go. I’ve heard a suggestion that they would get rid of Black Watch and/or Boudicca, but those ships have become so strongly associated with Fred. Olsen that I can’t see it. In any case, this is all speculation. The one thing that is certain is that Fred. Olsen have seized the opportunity to buy a couple of excellent ships. It’s only about a month or six weeks since Carnival Corporation announced that they were going to get rid of 14 older ships, so Fred. Olsen have moved quickly to seize this opportunity. Well done Fred. Olsen!

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The EU has issued a document under the title “Interim Advice for restarting cruise ship operations after lifting restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. The date of issue was 30 June. Assuming these advice guidelines are implemented, they will have a large impact on the cruise experience.

The document is in 10 main parts, as follows:

  • Parts 1 & 2 are the Introduction and Purpose of the document;
  • Part 3 covers Essential Pre-requisites;
  • Part 4 options for preventing “COVID-19 infectious passengers” from starting their cruise;
  • Part 5 covers preparedness for responding to COVID-19 events on board cruise ships;
  • Part 6 covers options to prevent COVID-19 travellers (passengers and crew) from boarding cruise ships;
  • Part 7 covers Measures for preventing and limiting transmission of COVID-19 on board cruise ships;
  • Part 8 covers managing COVID-19 on board cruise ships and at terminal stations;
  • Part 9 is about responding to COVID-19 outbreaks retrospectively;
  • Part 10 covers cruise terminals; and
  • 3 annexes.

The document is very long – 48 pages, in fact – and it’s not possible to cover it in any sort of detail here. But (from a very brief perusal) the main measures that are being proposed include the following:

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In an update to its general travel advice, the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised “against cruise travel at this time”. The reason given is the ongoing pandemic. The full text of the advice is:-

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England.

The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.

If you have future cruise travel plans, you should speak to your travel operator, or the travel company you booked with, for further advice.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office continues to support the Department for Transport’s work with industry for the resumption of international cruise travel.

As can be seen there is no timetable given as to when the advice might be changed, so the best we can say is that cruising is advised-against for the foreseeable future. This is obviously disappointing and frustrating for many people who were perhaps hoping that with the recent steady lifting of the anti-Covid-19 measures, cruising would also be able to resume soon.

Indeed, it’s ironic that this coincides with a separate announcement that international travel to certain (stated) countries is exempted from the FCO’s overall advice against “all but essential international travel”. The list of exempted countries includes all of the major Mediterranean countries e.g. Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, plus most of the countries of northern Europe, e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. Between them, these countries make up the majority of summer cruise destinations. Clearly the government feels that it is cruising itself that present a heightened risk and not the destinations.

As I say, we just don’t know for how long this advice will be in force – possibly until the end of the year. One further complicating factor is that the EU has issued advice and guidance on how to cruise safely at the present time – restrictions and actions that the cruise lines must implement. It may be that the UK government is waiting until it has heard from the EU that agreement has been reached with the cruise lines on the measures that will be introduced. I’ll do a post on this in a day or so.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the webpage holding the travel advice from the FCO during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Oceana berthed at Abu Dhabi

P&O have today announced that Oceana is leaving the P&O fleet. In practice, with the current pause this is happening immediately – the announcement says “this month”.

I’m not surprised by this. I have a feeling that this is all to do with Venice…. I’ll explain.

For the last several years there have been de-facto restrictions on the size of ships sailing into Venice – about 89,000 tons – and Oceana is within this limit. There’s some uncertainty as whether or not this regulation was actually still legally in force, but that didn’t matter – the Cruise Lines Industry Association announced that its members (which includes P&O) would would continue to observe the restriction, regardless of its strict legal validity.

For the last several years, Oceana has done summer fly-cruises out of Malta, some of which (about 1 in 3?) have included a call at Venice. These Mediterranean fly-cruises have proved very popular, and I’m sure that P&O would have loved to deploy a larger ship with more passengers on these itineraries, but the larger ships – Azura, Ventura, etc – are all too big for Venice. What’s changed is that in the face of the continuing protests about cruise ships, the accident involving the MSC ship last year, and possibly other issues, it looks as if the cruise lines are leaving Venice altogether. For example, Royal Caribbean announced a month or so ago that their itineraries on the eastern side of Italy would call at Ravenna in future and not at Venice, and I anticipate that they will be followed by others. I’ve been anticipating that P&O will make a similar announcement. Since in that case they would no longer be calling at Venice they could use one of their larger ships, and in the face of that Oceana begins to look a bit surplus to requirements.

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