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The (rather crowded) open decks at Naples

This was our first cruise so everything was new to us. However I had done my research via various websites and had therefore picked up lots of basic information. For example, we had learned about the lifeboat/muster drill; about the on-board cashless system; and about the two-sitting dining experience; and when we encountered all of these for the first time there were no surprises.

What did surprise us was just how lavish and comfortable MSC Sinfonia was. We now know that in fact it was pretty typical for ships of that era, i.e. the early 00s, but we were impressed. In particular the standard of furnishings and fittings in all the public areas made a big impression on us, with rich colours. We made good use of the bars and lounges (and see below for more on that), we enjoyed the open decks, and we also liked walking along the promenades – Sinfonia had wide promenades down both sides, although there were no wrap-round sections at bow or stern. At the time we accepted the lack of space on board, but looking back at the photos I can see that it was quite crowded. But with no sea days in the itinerary, that wasn’t too much of a problem – we were off the ship and ashore every day.

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Naples – Stazione Marittima

As I mentioned in the previous post, our first cruise was very port-heavy. A 7-night cruise, and therefore 6 full days, it had a port every day.

Here’s the itinerary:

  • Genoa: embarkation and departure at 17:00
  • Naples: 12:00 – 20:00
  • Palermo: 08:00 – 17:00
  • Tunis: 08:00 – 13:00
  • Palma: 14:00 – 01:00
  • Barcelona: 09:00 – 19:00
  • Marseilles: 08:00 – 19:00
  • Genoa: disembarkation by about 09:00.

We had also havered for a while about the itinerary. MSC at that time did two 7-night Western Mediterranean cruises out of Genoa, with slightly different itineraries, and departing on different days. My recollection is that the alternative itinerary called at Rome instead of Naples, Tunis later in the day, and possibly Valencia or somewhere in southern Spain rather than Palma. IIRC the prices were pretty much identical.

Given that this was our first cruise, all of these ports were new to us as ports. We had been to Palma the year previously on a land-based holiday to Mallorca, and had enjoyed it.Also, being our first cruise, we had no idea about docking arrangements, shuttle buses, etc – it was all new to us. As it happened, we berthed very centrally at Naples (at the old Stazione Maritimo) and also at Barcelona, within a few minutes’ walking distance of the bottom of La Rambla. At Palma we were a bit further out, maybe a kilometre or so round the bay from the cathedral. I’m not sure about Palermo, but at both Tunis and Marseilles were some miles away from the main parts of town and shuttle buses were in operation.

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Part 1 – Introduction and overview

Fifteen years ago (today, as I write) we were on our first cruise. It was on MSC Sinfonia, lasted for 7 nights/6 full days, and was a fly cruise from/to Genoa. It was very port-heavy – six full days, six ports. This was long before I’d started this blog and therefore it was never properly reviewed here. Recently I came across a physical scrapbook that I made about it shortly after the cruise finished – surely a precursor to this blog? – with lots of text and photos. Better still, I kept the text and image files from which I created the scrapbook. So I’ve decided to do a review, not only of the cruise itself, but also of my original review – has my thinking changed? Would we be as happy with that cruise today as we obviously were fifteen years ago?

This is what I said at the beginning of that old review:

This was our first cruise, and we chose MSC for a combination of the itinerary, the price, and the newness of the ship.

On reflection I don’t think that’s quite the whole story.

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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.

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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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