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We had expected to do two cruises this year. We had booked an 18-night cruise on Aurora for April but we had already cancelled this last autumn – we had been expecting that Val would have retired in 2019 which would have given us the time to do this cruise. In the event Val didn’t retire so we decided that it wouldn’t be possible for her to find the 3 weeks’ holiday in spring just for that (as well as all the other holidays she would want to take) so we cancelled it. We lost our deposit, but because we had booked it while on a previous cruise, that was just £50 each.

Then when we saw Iona’s schedules we were attracted to a one-week cruise in December, a ‘Winter Markets’ cruises, calling at Hamburg, Rotterdam (for two days) and Zeebrugge, and we booked it. Then Covid-19 struck the world. That cruise might still happen, of course – December is still 6 months away – but we can’t be confident it will. So we’ve taken advantage of P&O’s ‘free transfer’ policy, have cancelled that one, and have rebooked for the equivalent cruise – same ship, same itinerary – in December 2021. So that’s something to look forward to.

According to Cruise Critic, Princess Cruises have announced new health guidelines that they will be applying to ships, passengers and crew when they are allowed to restart cruising. These measures break down into a number of different areas: pre-cruise; embarkation; and of course on board measures.

For pre-cruise activities, Princess will pro-actively monitor the Covid-19 situation globally, and will adjust  itineraries, which could include cancelling or modifying them, if required. Passengers will be screened before embarkation, and those passengers known to have had contact (presumably recent) with a known or suspected case of Covid-19, or those presenting with fever or flu-like symptoms, or those with chronic underlying health conditions, will be refused boarding.

At embarkation time there will be enhanced medical screening, including mandatory thermal screening of all passengers and crew. There will also be a new health questionnaire that all passengers will be required to complete. Passengers who fail the thermal screening, or who give answers on the health questionnaire that cause concern, will be referred for further screening, and may be refused boarding. However, any passenger refused boarding at this point, or during the pre-cruise period, will be given a full refund – or, more likely, a full credit for a future cruise. Any passenger found during the cruise to have falsified their answers to the questionnaire will be disembarked at the next port of call.

Continue Reading »

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…I am not able to confirm a date when we can expect to resume normal operations…

Fred. Olsen have announced that the ‘pause’ in their ocean cruising itineraries will be extended beyond the previously-announced date of 23 May, and no date has been given as to when the pause will end. Peter Deer, managing director at Fred. Olsen Cruises said “At this stage I am not able to confirm a date when we can expect to resume normal operations as I don’t want to set an expectation and not be able to deliver what we promise”.

Mr Deer’s announcement goes on to say that the company are keeping a close eye on the latest guidance from the relevant authorities, both UK and overseas. It also says they are “very clear on our position that we will not resume cruising until we know it is safe for us to do so”.

Fred. Olsen will be assessing all currently still-planned upcoming cruises from 23rd May in date order. Guests who are booked onto the sailings that will now be cancelled will be contacted by Fred. Olsen Cruises at least 30 days in advance – which means that passengers on the first cruises to be affected by this announcement can expect to be contacted pretty soon.

My feeling its that an extension beyond late May (the period to which most cruise lines operating in the UK market have already cancelled cruises) was inevitable – the world will not be ready for cruising to resume  for quite a while.  I also think that Peter Deer is being honest when he says that he cannot give a date on which they hope to resume – indeed, as I said in a post the other day, I’ll be surprised if cruising resumes this year.

At the moment the Fred. Olsen website has not been updated with this news – I’ll edit this post when it has.

 

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Just over a week ago the CDC announced an extension to its “No Sail Order” for cruise ships in US waters. The impact of the Order is that cruise ships may not sail (depart) from ports in US waters.

The Order shall remain in operation until ….. 100 days from publication

The order makes mention of efforts by the CDC and the US Coast Guard to lead efforts by the cruise lines to monitor health on ships, to train crew in Covid-19 prevention, and to make plans for managing and preventing outbreaks on board. However, the guts of the order are that ships may not presently sail – that is, depart on a cruise – from a US port. The Order will remain in force until the first of these three things has occurred:-

  1. Covid-19 is no longer officially regarded as a public health emergency; or
  2.  The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the Order; or
  3. A further 100 days have passed. (If this is the first of the three events to occur, then I would expect that the Order would be further extended.)

Strictly speaking, this Order only applies to cruise ships in US ports or waters, so theoretically it is possible that sailings in non-US waters – e.g. Europe – could recommence earlier. But somehow I can’t see it. In any case, a further issue in Europe or Asia is that separate countries are likely to refuse entry to cruise ships sailing from ports not under their own control, so in practice cruising will remain on hold. The ‘100 days’ starts on the 9th of April, I believe, which means that will expire on or around the 18th of July. But I would anticipate a further extension from that date.

Here’s a link to the CDC website page.

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Cruising in 2020

Well, it’s been a while…. during which time everything changed, of course. When I wrote my last post in mid-February I was just beginning to wonder if cruising would be affected by the strange Chinese virus I was reading about, but as I write this (18 April 2020), cruising has stopped worldwide and won’t be restarting for the foreseeable future.

First, let’s look at the present situation:

  • Fleets are laid up all around the world and there is no indication as to when they will be brought back into service. At the moment the main UK cruise lines are on a ‘voluntary pause’ and as a result of this, all cruises through the spring and into the summer have already been cancelled and passengers disappointed.
  • There is considerable doubt that any of the lines mentioned above will be able to restart operations on the currently-published dates on which they hope to end their ‘pause’.
  • There has been much disappointment and anger among cruise passengers who have had their cruises cancelled. In addition to the fundamental disappointment of not being able to go on the cruise they were anticipating so much, the anger has come from the lines’ policies with regard to how passengers have been treated. I’m not going to go into specifics here – I haven’t explored the issue in depth, mainly because I haven’t had to – but I understand that passengers are generally not receiving refunds of the money they had paid. Instead, they have been offered vouchers or future credits, perhaps with an enhancement (e.g. 125% of what they’d actually paid – I think…) to be used as part payment for a cruise at some time in the future.
  • A second cause of anger has been that a look at the 2021 brochure has revealed that prices in 2021 are higher than they were for 2020, even for essentially the same cruise.

Everyone is hoping that “things get back to normal” as quickly as possible. I’m wondering if that will actually happen. I have a feeling that “normal” is over; that the disruption and restrictions will last longer than many people imagine; and that eventually they will be replaced by a new “normal”. Here are my reasons: Continue Reading »

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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.

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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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Oriana

 

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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