Sunday, 31 March 2013

Crystal's Pacific Coast Extravaganza

~ Shore Excursions Explore Region’s Renowned Outdoors, History, and Artistry ~

On its sole Pacific Coast itinerary this year, Crystal Cruises has set more than 40 Crystal Adventures ashore, almost a dozen of them new. From Vancouver to Los Angeles, the seven-night Crystal Symphony voyage on April 29 explores the Pacific Northwest and California coastlines with a selection of new nature-loving, cultural and historic shore-side options, such as:

For Art and Film Fans
  • Explore private art studios and galleries, from glass-blowing in Seattle to the historic art colony of Sausalito.
  • See the real-life movie locations used in films such as The Goonies, Free Willy and Kindergarten Cop.

For Outdoor Adventurers
  • Zip-line through dense Oregon forest near Astoria, over eight lines, and into a private lake.
  • Follow Lewis and Clark’s footsteps through the same dunes and fields they “discovered” outside Fort Clatsop.
  • Sail San Francisco Bay aboard the ORACLE team’s USA 76 America’s Cup yacht, just months before the city hosts this year’s race.

For History and Culture Buffs
  • Ride a “Magic Bus” through landmarks of San Francisco’s 1960’s counterculture.
  • Go behind-the-scenes at the 146-year-old Fort Stevens, the only US fort in the 48 states to be bombed by a foreign power since the War of 1812.

Also, for the first time ever, three complimentary “You Care, We Care” voluntourism opportunities will be offered on one cruise, with guests and crew assisting at an Astoria State Park and helping feed the hungry in Victoria and Santa Barbara. Other coastal Crystal Adventures explore Victoria’s charming architecture; local wine, cheese and seafood; quaint seaside villages; Mount St Helens; the City by the Bay by helicopter; and outdoor sporting activities on wheels or the water in Santa Barbara.

“California and the Pacific Northwest are renowned for their beauty and culture, but these excursions offer innovative ways to experience those touchstones of America and Canada’s ‘left coast’, whether world-famous or under-the-radar,” says Philip Ordever, Vice President, International Sales & Marketing. 

The Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Astoria, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles cruise also features a jazz theme honouring saxophonist, composer and arranger Benny Golson. All-inclusive “Book Now” fly-cruise fares start from £3,314 per person.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line Ltd, the UK's leading luxury cruise specialists.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

CroisiEurope's River-Cruise Savings

Having introduced the new river-cruise options of family-owned CroisiEurope (see this blog from last Monday), we now have some tempting special offers to pass on for these special savings, all of which are valid until one week prior to each departure:

The Inviting Seine Valley
Save €350 per person (approximately £299) on an eight-night river cruise through the inviting Seine Valley. The cruise starts in Paris on April 13 and meanders through Vernon, Caudebec-en-Caux, Honfleur, Rouen and Les Andelys before arriving back in Paris. Prices are from €706 per person (approximately £603) based on two sharing, including eight nights in an outside cabin with all onboard meals, drinks with meals, onboard entertainment and port taxes. Plus, there is no single supplement.

The Seine Valley
Save €170 per person (approximately £145) on a five-night cruise from the Norman coast to Paris with departures on May 11 and 14. The cruise starts in Honfleur and visits the Cote Fleurie, Caudebec-en-Caux, The Abbey Trail, Rouen, Mantes La Jolie and Conflans Sainte Honorine before finishing in Paris. Prices are from €472pp (approximately £403) based on two sharing, including five nights in an outside cabin with all onboard meals, drinks with meals, onboard entertainment and port taxes. Again, there is no single supplement.

Canal Cruise from Saône-et-Loire to the Côte d’Or
Save up to €535pp (approximately £457) on a seven-night canal cruise on a hotel barge  from Saône-et-Loire to the Côte d’Or with departures on May 9 and July 22. The cruise starts in Saint Leger Sur Dheune and visits Santenay, Chagny, Chalon, Saint Jean de Losne and Petit-Ouge before finishing in Dijon. Prices are from €1,250pp (approximately £1,069) based on two sharing and include seven nights in an outside cabin with all onboard meals, drinks with meals, onboard entertainment, excursions, use of onboard bicycles and port taxes. Plus, there is a lower single supplement of just €282.50pp (approximately £241).

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury river-cruise specialists.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Save With AMA

AMA Waterways, one of Europe's leading luxury river-cruise operators, has three enticing new reduced-price offers for France, Portugal and the Rhine this summer. The details are as follows: 

Portugal’s Enticing Douro, saving £281pp 
The Douro is one of Europe’s most pure and unspoiled rivers, with deep cleft gorges, lush vineyards, and sleepy fishing villages. AMA's 7-night `Enticing Douro’ cruise departs May 14 and offers a round-trip from Porto, making daily calls along the route to picturesque towns, villages and places of interest, enabling guests to immerse themselves in local culture and traditions. The week-long sailing costs from £1,899 per person (was £2,180), including return UK flights, transfers, all meals, wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner, daily hosted excursions, free use of on-board bicycles and free wi-fi. Departures also on May 21, June 18 and August 6. 

Paris & Normandy, with £392pp saving
AmaWaterways offers this week-long cruise embarking in Paris on May 24 and cruising down the Seine to Normandy. The price of £1,949 per person (was £2,341) includes daily tours and excursions, the opportunity to visit Normandy’s beaches and the picturesque port of Honfleur, as well as return flights and transfers, all meals on board, wine and beer with dinner and lunch, free wi-fi, free use of on board bicycles and the company will even send guests’ post-cards free of charge! 

Cruise the Rhine, with £332pp saving
Departing on July 12, this week- long sailing between Basel and Amsterdam is now offered from £1,779pp (originally £2,111). The offer includes daily port calls along the way, visiting cities such as Cologne and Heidelberg, cruising through the legendary Black Forest, and past Switzerland’s Alpine scenery. The price includes return flights and transfers, all meals on board, wine and beer with dinner and lunch, free wi-fi and use of onboard bicycles.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury river cruising specialists.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Oceania's Free Internet Lure




Oceania Cruises is offering guests unlimited free internet access on 10 sailings on  the line's mid-sized luxury cruise ships this year. The company has a fully staffed internet centre, Oceania@Sea, with wireless internet access for guests to use their own laptops, or the PC workstations, while all guests in Suites and Concierge Veranda staterooms also have the use of an iPad throughout the voyage and exclusive use of PCs in the Executive Lounges.

Free internet is being offered on four sailings on board the newest ship in the fleet, the 1,250-guest Riviera, and four on sister ship, Marina, as well as a Mediterranean cruise on board the 684-guest Nautica and a Panama Canal transit on her sister ship Regatta. The company is also offering a $300 onboard credit per stateroom on these sailings, to spend in the bars, restaurants, spa and boutiques.

Example cruises with free internet include the September 29 `Romance and Rivieras’ sailing on Riviera from Lisbon to Monaco, calling into nine ports along the southern Mediterranean coasts of Spain, France and Italy, between Lisbon and Rome, before disembarkation in Monaco. The cruise costs from £1,489pp, including return flights, all meals, no supplement for speciality dining, complimentary soft drinks and bottled water, free internet use and a $300 US onboard credit per stateroom.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Celebrity's Expanded Europe In 2014


Celebrity Cruises has announced its European sailings for 2014, with six ships sailing in the region, including two from the UK. Guests can choose from 12 brand new itineraries including new seven-night sailings taking in Mediterranean gems from Barcelona to Venice, 12 and 13-night Classical Mediterranean cruises and 13night Istanbul overnight sailings. Next yeart will also include calls at 102 ports in 30 countries with five new ports of call – Zadar (Croatia), Porto Torres (Sardinia), Almeria (Spain), Sochi (Russia) and Lerwick (Shetlands). 

The cruise line’s newest and most luxurious ships, including recently launched Celebrity Reflection, will all sail their 2014 summer seasons in Europe, with Celebrity Eclipse and Infinity both sailing from UK ports. Celebrity Equinox will also repeat her 12-night Italy and Greek Isles sailings, calling at ports including Rome (Civitavecchia), Santorini and Athens (Piraeus). Fly/cruise prices start from £1,799 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).

Celebrity Constellation will continue to sail 12-night Norwegian Fjords, Scandinavia and Russia, and Arctic Circle sailings from Amsterdam. A new 14-night Amsterdam to Istanbul itinerary includes a new port of call for Celebrity in Almeria. Celebrity Reflection, will again sail a series of 10 and 11-night Eastern Med cruises from Civitavecchia, including her spa-inspired AquaClass Suites and the ultra-luxurious Reflection Suite - the first to include a glass shower extending over the edge of the ship. Celebrity Silhouette will continue 11-night Italy and Croatia and 12-night Adriatic cruises.

The line's new itineraries include: 
  • Seven-night Greek Isles cruises from Venice. Fly/cruise prices start from £1,399 per person.
  • 12-night Eastern Med and Greek Isles sailings where guests can island hop around Rhodes, Mykonos and Crete (Chania). Fly/cruise prices start from £1,649 per person.
  • The 14-night Holy Land cruises head to historic ports of call including Alexandria (Egypt), Jerusalem (Ashdod, Israel) and Haifa (Israel). Fly/cruise prices start from £1,499 per person.

All prices based on two people sharing an interior stateroom. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's leading specialist cruise agents.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Ponant's 25th Anniversary Special




 
Deluxe French boutique cruise line Compagnie du Ponant are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a special 25 per cent discount offer on a special Spring voyage with a Mediterranean flavour.

Atlantic/Mediterranean cruise on April 4


Take a luxury 10-day yacht cruise from Las Palmas (Canary Islands) to Malaga (Spain), sampling the best of western Mediterranean flavours on the way, including sailing along the Moroccan west coast of Africa and up the River Guadalquivir in Spain. Book now to celebrate with Ponant and enjoy 25% off – a saving of more than £500.

The voyage now costs from just £2,288 per person, based on double occupancy, cruise-only. The full itinerary includes Santa Cruz (Canary Islands), Funchal (Madeira), Casablanca (Morocco), Tangier (Morocco), sailing the Guadalquivir to Seville (Spain), Cadiz and Malaga.

Guests can watch the exceptional landscapes, get off the ship to explore some hidden gems along some spectacular coastlines and relax in style onboard L’Austral, one of Ponant’s ‘super yachts’ with 132 staterooms and suites (95% of which have a balcony), two restaurants and a full Spa.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Introducing CroisiEurope

It's not often we get the chance to introduce a brand new cruise line to our readers, but here's one we are definitely keen to share, especially as it adds significantly to the options for European river-cruising.

CroisiEurope is a 37-year-old French family-run business, building, owning and operating 28 elegant ships, with an average capacity of 100 to 180 passengers. Offering excellent value for money, these smart river-cruise ships are designed to sail in any water conditions, to fit under low and narrow bridges and navigate challenging rivers and canals.

CroisiEurope also seeks out creative itineraries and often operates on rivers where nobody else cruises, such as the Guadalquivir and Guadina rivers in Spain, the Tisza in Hungary, Venice lagoon and the Po in Italy, in addition to rivers such as the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Rhone, Saone, Gironde, Garonne and Douro and the canals of France. There is also a selection of coastal cruises in the Adriatic and Mediterranean on 100-cabin M/S Belle de l'Adreatique, which can reach small ports and harbours inaccessible to large cruise ships.

Unique itineraries are available on most European rivers, ranging from three nights in Paris to 12-night transcontinental cruises all the way to the Black Sea. Prices start from just 300 per person for three nights full-board on a 'Paris Taster' mini-cruise. CroisiEurope also offers a number of themed cruises, including lifestyle gourmet & wine cruises; cruise & hike for active guests; classical music cruises; harvest festival cruises; and Christmas markets and New Year cruises.

The fleet, with 50 to 90 cabins on each ship, offers excellent onboard facilities, combining sophisticated "Francophile" lifestyle with insightful itineraries and panoramic views from cabins, lounges and sundecks. All cabins are outside with panoramic windows, fully equipped with bathrooms, TVs, hair dryers and air conditioning.

What’s New…. 

  • In August 2012, CroisiEurope acquired La Jeanine, a 12-cabin hotel barge that will sail on the Alsace canals and in Burgundy, offering bespoke experiences with English-speaking commentaries between May and October.
  • Following unprecedented success and continued demand for five, six, seven and eight-night Gironde & Garonne river cruises from Bordeaux, there will be more Bordeaux departures when the brand new MS Cyrano de Bergerac joins MS Princess d'Aquitaine in May.

For more info on European river-cruising, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's specialist for deluxe river cruise options.




Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Nordic Summer Dream

The Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ship Europa sets sail in June and July for the far north of Scandinavia - and a real Nordic dream of a summer cruise.

The Arctic will provide the backdrop for the fifth “Stella Maris” singing competition, in which eight talented young singers from famous opera houses will vie for glory on the ship in the Lieder, opera and oratorio categories. Along the way, musical and scenic highlights galore await guests as the ship sails from Hamburg to Iceland through the fjords of Norway and on to Spitsbergen. There will also be opportunities to take off in a manoeuvrable Zodiac to discover the region north of the Arctic Circle during the hours between the performances. 

The various concerts accompanying the “Stella Maris” competition will showcase the classical singing skills of a host of talented young artists. For the fifth time, Europa will be transformed into a festival stage, under the artistic leadership of chamber singer and tenor Michael Schade. The audience will play an active part in the musical event, choosing the winner, who can look forward to a 15,000 euro prize courtesy of Hapag-Lloyd cruises. 

A Nordic Summer Dream
After setting sail from Hamburg on June 30, the ship will head past Iceland up towards Spitsbergen and then spend three days along Norway’s “Cold Coast”. Guests will also be able to marvel at the cliffs of the Faroe Islands, the geysers of Iceland and the idyllic Lofoten Islands dotted with ancient fishing villages. And there’s more for families too: for example, the itinerary also includes a number of outings such as the communal bathing in the Blue Lagoon under the skies of Reykjavik. 

The 18-day voyage costs from £5,460 per person, cruise only, including accommodation in the category booked; full board on the ship; mini-bar in the suite; a different entertainment programme each day; port fees; travel cancellation insurance; and share of ship fuel costs. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's adventure cruising specialists.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Holland America's Med Bargain

Holland America Line is offering an 11-night luxury Mediterranean fly/cruise from just £659 per person this spring. Departing from Barcelona on April 23 and disembarking in Dover on  May 4, this wonderful voyage includes full board accommodation on the mid-size, 1,260 capacity MS Ryndam, an outbound flight to Barcelona and transfers.
 
From Barcelona, the cruise sails to Palma de Mallorca in the sunny Balearic Islands before heading to the beachside city of Alicante.  Ryndam then sails to Motril for the fascinating Moorish city of Granada, before spending a full day exploring at Gibraltar. Portugal awaits next and the pretty fishing port of Portimao on the Algarve coast, before heading to the lively capital of Lisbon. The final stop on this voyage is La Coruña on Spain’s Atlantic coast, before sailing back to home turf and disembarking in Dover.
 
Whilst at sea, guests can take advantage of the Culinary Arts Centre, which features cookery demonstrations, as well as sampling Ryndam’s choice of elegant restaurants and lounges in addition to being pampered at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon.
 
This offer is based on two sharing an inside stateroom on HAL's 'European Splendour' fly/cruise sailing April 23.
 
For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line Ltd, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

Friday, 22 March 2013

P&O's New Fly-Cruises For 2014/15

P&O Cruises has launched a new programme of holidays for 2014/15, including new fly-cruise holidays in the Mediterranean for the first time.

The new broader programme of great value holidays on offer for 2014 is available to book from April 8. Highlights include:
  • Some 269 cruises, visiting 218 places (including 17 new destinations) in 77 countries, with itineraries to Norway and Iceland, the Baltic, Iberia, Canary Islands, Mediterranean and Caribbean, plus three world cruises.
  • The first P&O fly-cruise summer holidays in the Mediterranean.
  • More short cruise breaks than ever before - 35 in total.
  • Unique itinerary cruises, including ‘discovery ship’ Adonia’s river cruising into the heart of Seville and Bordeaux, a visit to Kiel during the Kiel Week Festival and a cruise around Britain, plus Arcadia’s cruise to the USA and Canada.
  • Expanded Northern Lights cruises on Oriana in 2015, and a sailing to the Arctic Circle.
  • More cabins for solo travellers, including the first single balcony cabins on newly refitted Arcadia.
There will also be more themed cruises, following on from the success of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing series, and cruises with celebrity chefs and wine experts, plus 2014 celebrates the 30th anniversary of P&O's Music Festivals at Sea.
 
The onboard dining choices have also been broadened, with the Freedom Dining option available across six ships. There are Vantage Fares with enhanced appeal, backed by a strengthened Price Promise offered on all cruises, plus early-booking savings on all cruises.

For bookings, follow
this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's leading cruise agent specialists.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Beatlemania With Fred Olsen

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines are well-known for their great choice of convenient regional UK departure ports – no fewer than nine in 2013 – and also for offering a wide selection of mini-cruises. One of these popular sailings, ideal for those who are ‘new to cruising’ and would like an introductory taste of life at sea, is Boudicca’s ‘Liverpool & Dublin Discovery’, a three-night mini-cruise departing from Greenock (Glasgow) on July 14, which also boasts live entertainment from Beatles tribute band Beatlemania.

This ‘Fab Four’ are recognised as one of the UK’s leading tribute bands, and have played to ecstatic audiences all over the world, with many TV and theatre appearances to their name. Formed in the 1990s, Beatlemania have appeared alongside many original bands from the 1960s, including The Merseybeats, The Hollies and The Searchers, and their celebrity clients include David and Victoria Beckham and Sir Richard Branson. Their repertoire covers music from all stages of The Beatles’ career, from the early ‘mop top’ days, right through to Sergeant Pepper and The White Album, with the group changing their outfits to match the music.

This Boudicca mini-break starts with a visit to lively Dublin, for an overnight stay. This is one of the most popular ports, with wonderful sightseeing, great bars, cafés and restaurants, and the overnight stay gives guests plenty of time to sample the famous Irish ‘craic’. As well as its landscaped parks and rich Georgian heritage, Dublin has personality; bursting with culture, landmarks such as the Old Parliament House, Trinity College, Dublin Castle and Christchurch Cathedral, all of which are a must-see. Of course, no visit would be complete without a trip to the Guinness Brewery for a drop of the ‘black stuff’, or a quick ‘snifter’ at the Jameson Distillery! For lovers of the great outdoors, there is also the option to take a hike through the stunning scenery of the Wicklow Mountains.

The next and final stop is Liverpool, a new port for Fred. Olsen’s 2013/14 season, where the line is making a welcome return. Named as the 2008 European Capital of Culture, Liverpool is packed with museums and art galleries. Its historic waterfront – featuring the iconic Liver Building – was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, proving that this warm and welcoming City is more than just the birthplace of The Beatles.

Prices for this special cruise start from £229 per person, based on two adults sharing an inside, twin cabin, Grade ‘I’. This price includes all meals and entertainment on board, including performances by Beatlemania, and port taxes. 

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's leading cruise specialists.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Noble Caledonia's Indian Adventure

Here's a new offer that has just arrived in the World of Cruising Inbox that we really like the sound of - join Noble Caledonia as they venture along India’s most holy river on two journeys, allowing guests to discover the true spirit of the country.

No river in the world plays a more important cultural, economic or social role in the lives of more people than the Ganges. The spiritual heart of Hinduism, the river is strewn with cities, pilgrimage sites, mountains and forests. Any river journey allows the traveller to slowly absorb the sights and everyday life that is just not possible by any other means of travel, and this is particularly true of the Ganges; its banks offer a colourful, ever-changing scene and a fascinating glimpse of India, from the enchanting rural landscapes to the bustling towns and cities.

Anyone who travels regularly to India will tell you moving around on land can be frustratingly slow. But this journey aboard the newly built RV Rajmahal alleviates much of this stress as so much of what can be seen and done can be approached from the banks of the river. Romantic notions and modern travel are often a difficult marriage, but a Ganges journey is one of the few trips that can still inspire and be a genuinely moving experience, whether guests are watching a torrent of pilgrims and holy men wading into the river; reflecting on the history of the Raj and its ever present monuments; or simply observing fishermen and locals going about their business in their tiny boats.

Priced from £4,995 per person for 17 nights; book by May 31 and save £500pp.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line Ltd, the UK's river cruise specialists.



Panama Canal Cruise - Final Day

Concluding the live blog of our day-by-day Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

At Sea

We have come to the 10th and last day of our grand voyage, and will be extremely reluctant to disembark back in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow. It has been one of our most memorable cruises of recent years and we have loved the more laid-back but elegant style of the Coral Princess.

Obviously having five full sea days (with one extra from missing the Grand Cayman call) has helped to put this voyage firmly in the chill-out zone, but the ship's huge capacity to provide a great variety of relaxation areas is also notable. Put simply, if you want a slightly more old-fashioned, get-away-from-it-all type of cruise, this could well be for you.

While the Coral does have the obvious glitzy, modern amenities like the Casino, shopping district, full theatre, Movies Under The Stars, full-scale Spa and variety of alternative dining outlets, there is definitely something rather traditional and refined about her overall ambience, and it is immensely enjoyable, almost as if she is one of the 'secret gems' of the Princess fleet - not obvious, but very rewarding for those who enjoy a slower pace.

Given another full day to enjoy everything aboard, we have to decide this morning between the usual array of daytime activities - including a Spa seminar on 'secrets to a flatter stomach,' Morning trivia, a bridge lecture, an Outlet Sale in all the shops, Snowball Jackpot Bingo and a Culinary Demonstration & Galley Tour - or to give The Sanctuary a try, and move into total chill-out mode.

The Sanctuary wins, and we find only a handful of fellow passengers enjoying the expansive confines of the two aft decks, where full loungers, chairs and tables are set out both in the sun and shade, and the small Aft Pool is available for a cooling dip.

With 'Serenity Stewards' to provide chilled drinks (cucumber and orange water, iced tea), or hot tea and coffee, and an overall atmosphere of pure relaxation, we are happy to spend a few hours here (it is $10 per person for a half-day, or $20 all day) and then head for the Bayou Cafe for one of the signature Pub Lunches, which goes down extremely well (the likes of Fish & Chips, Steak & Kidney Pie, a Ploughman's Lunch and Bangers & Mash, plus Jam Roly-Poly).

However, we are not back on our loungers in The Sanctuary for long before the Captain has a serious announcement to make - one of the passengers is in need of urgent medical treatment and a Coast Guard helicopter has been despatched to pick them up off the ship, a delicate maneuver that requires all passengers to be cleared from the open decks for safety reasons.

That effectively puts an end to our Sanctuary time, but we are obviously more mindful of the fact someone's life could be in danger, hence we - and all our fellow passengers - do not feel put out in any way, and we are all keeping our fingers crossed for a safe airlift and successful conclusion in hospital (presumably in Miami). 

Instead of more lounging, we opt for the afternoon movie in the Princess Theater, Silver Linings Playbook, another of the Oscar-nominated films which seem to have been omni-present on this cruise. After the failings of Argo and the truly atrocious Beasts of the Southern Wild, we are charmed by Silver Linings, which has a genuine, old-fashioned heart and plenty of high-quality acting (we have already seen Lincoln, which is also on today, and rate it by far the best of all the nominees we have watched. How it didn't get the Oscar for Best Picture will always astound us).

By the time we exit the theatre, it is time to head back to our stateroom and start the hateful business of packing ready to put our suitcases out for collection this evening. This is always the one real bugbear of a cruise as it isn't something that can be done at the last minute and you have to plan around your apparel for the final evening and next morning.

We have a 7pm dinner reservation back at the Bayou Cafe & Steakhouse, where we completely fell in love with the place on our first night aboard. With Manager Vicente and our favourite waiter, Yordan, we are extremely happy to enjoy the fine fare here and the gentle jazz of the Argo Trio.

The final evening's entertainment is a mixed bag of the Farewell Variety Show, featuring the likes of stand-out vocalist Travis Turpin, comedian Steve Caouette and the ship's singers and dancers, the Princess Pop Star Final (not our cup of maritime tea) and the International Crew Show, which is usally a lot of fun.

Our final thoughts on the large-scale evening entertainment is that this probably isn't the ship's strongest suit. The guest performers are all well worthwhile, but the resident singers are only OK and the dancers sometimes lack the necessary snap and sizzle for this kind of thing. The musicians around the vessel vary from the highly proficient main band, to the great sounds of the Argo Trio, and the more mundance dance bands and pianist (although classical pianist Antoni Wcislo always sounds smooth and listenable).

We do manage to sign off in style, though, by taking part in the Multimedia Disney Trivia contest in the Explorers Lounge. My wife is a distinct Disney expert and, by joining forces with another couple, we find ourselves trivia champions for the second time in a few days and have a bottle of champagne to share for our troubles!

It is a fitting sign-off to a wonderful cruise, and one we would heartily recommend for those who like a slower-paced voyage, with fewer children around and a more 'grown-up' overall vibe. The itinerary is definitely more for those who like history and culture (and some wildlife), and not so much for those who want lots of beaches and shopping (stick to the northern and eastern Caribbean for that).

The Panama Canal was the undoubted highlight, even with only a partial transit, and the immensity, complexity and smooth-functioning of the Gatun Locks will stay long in our minds. But both Cartagena and Limon were definite hits with us, too.

Our vessel will also have to be one of the stars of the show, though, as she proved an admirable travelling vehicle for the 10 days and one we would be very happy to cruise on at any stage in future. The forthcoming new Royal Princess may be making all the headlines right now, but the Coral is definitely no slouch and, what she may lack in glitz, she certainly makes up for in elegant sophistication.

So, that was our full Princess Cruises experience, sailing round-trip from Port Everglades and returning to only a slight delay through immigration on our disembarkation (it was a Sunday, after all). We'd be happy to answer any questions you may have about the ship - and a full review will feature in the Summer edition of World of Cruising!

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Hurtigruten lines up its new voyages for 2014/15

Norway and Northern Europe specialists Hurtigruten have lined up a tempting array of new itineraries for 2014, with some fabulous one-off opportunities, including Iceland for the first time, and extra voyages to Greenland.

New itineraries include:

ICELAND
THE LAND OF FIRE AND ICE – Circumnavigating Iceland
For the first time, Hurtigruten is offering a voyage that circumnavigates Iceland, taking in its nature and history and learning more about this mystical island with a programme of onboard lectures. For bird lovers, there is a trip to the Hornbjarg Cliff, which is teeming with birds and where the noise can be overwhelming at first, and Vigur with its puffins, guillemots and arctic terns. Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Europe and a stop is made here, too. This 11-day voyage departs Reykjavik on May 25, 2014, and costs from £3,834pp including full board, 10 nights on the ship and lecture/landings programme. Based on two sharing. Flights are extra.
EUROPE
THE BEST OF THE SOUTH WEST – Islands of Southern Europe
This island-hopping voyage from Las Palmas to Lisbon takes in a carefully selected collection of interesting, warm and sunny destinations in southern Europe. Visit the lesser-visited parts of the Canary Islands such as El Hierro and La Gomera, get to know green and lush Madeira and the contrasting island of Porto Santo, and explore three of the remote islands of the Azores: San Miguel; Pico Isla and Terceira, all in one voyage before finishing in Lisbon. Hurtigruten’s expedition team will give interesting lectures on the history and culture of the places visited. This 12-day voyage departs Las Palmas on April 1, 2014, and costs from £1,643pp including full board, 11 nights on the ship and lecture/landings programme. Based on two sharing. Flights are extra.

GREENLAND – additional departures
Due to the speed in which it sold out for 2013, an additional departure date has been added for the ‘National Park Expedition’ that visits the North East Greenland National Park, the largest in the world and yet one of the least visited. This 15-day voyage from Iceland to Greenland and then onto Spitsbergen departs on August 20 and September 4, 2014, in the Arctic autumn and before the winter closes in and makes this corner of the planet uninhabitable. Prices are from £5,539pp full board, cruise only.

SPITSBERGEN – the return of ‘Polar Bears, Islets and Fjords’
This voyage from Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen to Bergen in Norway makes a return in 2014 after several years, and this time its on Hurtigruten's newest ship MS FramEn route, there is the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating history of explorers and whalers, and experience the wildlife of the high Arctic and along the shores of Norway. During the voyage the ship will visit small and isolated islands, settlements and charming fishing villages, some of which are only accessible by boat. This 13-day trip departs Longyearbyen on September 17, 2014, and costs from £2,757pp including full board, 11 nights on the ship and one night’s B&B in Longyearbyen. Based on two sharing. Flights are extra.

TRANSATLANTIC – ‘Treasures of the Atlantic Ocean’
Each year MS Fram relocates hemispheres and, unlike previous years, when she simply sailed from Las Palmas to Buenos Aires or vice versa, in 2014 the ship will make several stops along the way. The ‘Treasures of the Atlantic Ocean’ voyage visits five countries and some of the lesser-known islands of the Atlantic, including the fairytale-like island Fernando de Noronha, the St Peter and St Paul archipelago and Sao Vicente and Sao Antao in the North West Cape Verde Islands. Skilled expedition team members will give lectures on various topics and arrange landings in some of the exotic ports of call. Two voyages are available: March 14, Buenos Aires to Las Palmas, and vice versa on October 14. Prices are from £1,635pp including 18 nights on the ship. Based on two sharing. Flights are extra.

ANTARCTICA – voyages extended
Several voyages have been extended to ensure maximum time in Antarctica to explore this fascinating continent. The ‘Land of the Penguins’ itinerary has been extended by 3 days to give more time in Antarctica and the ‘Polar Circle Expedition’ has been extended by two days also.

For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's adventure cruising specialists.

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Great Panama Canal Cruise - Day 9; Grand Cayman (Or Not)

Continuing the live blog of our day-by-day Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

We are due in to the island of Grand Cayman today, in theory our final port of call on the 10-day itinerary. Only the weather is not cooperating.

I have been here a few times before and enjoyed the likes of the Turtle Farm, Stingray City (where you can swim with - and feed - stingrays on this shallow sand bank), the smart town of Georgetown and the visit to Hell, the ultra-touristy little rock outcropping that has been named so the locals can sell all manner of branded goods to gullible visitors.

Our preference here is just to disembark the ship via tender at our leisure and stroll along beautiful Seven Mile Beach until we find a suitable bar/cafe for lunch, and then get a taxi back to town. But not today.

Sadly, the seas are throwing up the kind of swell that makes tender operations particularly dicey and, while our Captain tries several ways to maneuver the ship, there is no getting around the fact it doesn't look 100% safe for all concerned. Hence, after looking at an alternative mooring, the Captain decides we will have to give Grand Cayman a miss for this cruise, sadly.

For one of the richest islands in the region, it does make you wonder why Grand Cayman has never invested in a proper harbour, though. They certainly receive enough cruise interest and, when the likes of Cozumel, Jamaica and others can all provide the necessary infrastructure, it is certainly a surprise that this island doesn't.

It IS one of the unfortunate elements of cruising that tender ports - where the ship cannot get in to a berth and has to use its own tenders, or those provided by the port - can be a bit of a lottery. Safety of both passengers and ship is each captain's No 1 priority, and heavy sea conditions will certainly work against a port at times. 

This is one of those times and there is nothing left but to pull up the anchor and head slowly off on our northerly course. In some cases it is possible to provide an alternative port of call, but, with nothing else close by or en route that can 1) provide a berth, and 2) keep the ship on track for its timely return to Port Everglades, we are destined merely for an extra sea day, making three in all to finish the voyage. 

That's probably not ideal for some passegers (especially those who have never been to the Cayman islands before), but we are quite happy just to enjoy another chill-out day in the Caribbean.

It is also interesting to see how the ship's onboard entertainment and dining departments cope with an unexpected change in plans. The simple answer is - extremely well.

Within a couple of hours, there is a new version of the Princess Patter daily information sheet, with all the programmes and activities for the day, and there are plenty of additional opportunities to enjoy, as well as a full lunch in the Provence dining room.

A relatively light onboard programme (on the basis of most people going ashore) has been filled out with the likes of an extra movie (Skyfall) in the Princess Theater, a line dance class, a bridge lecture, an impromptu indoor golf competition (right), a musicians get-together, Snowball Jackpot Bingo, more music in the lounges, water volleyball and a fun Paper Ball Drop in the Atrium.

There is no shortage of things to do plus, of course, there is the full array of options on the Lido deck, sports deck, Lido Pool, Spa, Sanctuary and other dining outlets. No-one is likely to be bored - or go hungry!

In the evening, there is another full programme (albeit of the fully-scheduled variety), including the excellent vocal impressionist Travis Turpin, who we rate as the best of the guest performers so far, more movies, a Pavarotti concert in the Explorers Lounge and Country & Western night in the Universe Lounge.

We also manage to make dinner in the Provence dining room last the best part of two hours as we sit chatting with another interesting and highly companionable table group, including port lecturer Chris Roberts. 

Dinner has become an absolute highlight for us each day, and manager Carlos seems highly adept at putting together convivial groupings. The evening also finished with the customary Parade of dining room and galley staff, taking a well-earned bow and round of applause from the people they have fed so well for the whole cruise. We are definitely going to miss this at home!

Tomorrow – Final Day At Sea.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.

Regent's New 'Gift' Promotion

Regent Seven Seas has announced a new cruise booking promotion called ‘A Gift from Regent’. Guests who book any one of the 8 eligible Europe 2013 voyages will receive two exclusive offers of free unlimited Internet and a $300 per suite shipboard credit. The only choice to be made is which cruise to take.

The ‘Gift from Regent’ promotion is available on bookings made from now until May 31 and is valid on the following 2013 sailings:

Seven Seas Mariner
8 September: Adriatic Escape, Venice to Monte Carlo, 10 Nights
17 October: Italian Interlude, Rome to Monte Carlo, 7 Nights
24 October: Princes & Patricians, Monte Carlo to Venice, 7 Nights
10 November: Passage to Iberia, Rome to Barcelona, 10 Nights
20 November: South Atlantic Sojourn, Barcelona to Rio de Janeiro, 18 Nights

Seven Seas Voyager
26 September: Classical Visions, Barcelona to Rome, 10 Nights
23 October: Lands of Myths, Seas of Fables, Rome to Venice, 10 Nights
12 November: Red Sea Odyssey, Istanbul to Dubai, 21 Nights
 
For bookings, follow this link to The Cruise Line, the UK's luxury cruising specialists.

The Great Panama Canal Cruise, Day 8, At Sea

Continuing the live blog of our day-by-day Panama Canal cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale with Princess Cruises.

More Leisurely Thoughts

After a run of four straight port calls, it is good to take things down a notch or two with another relaxed sea day, giving us a chance to catch our breath, review the amazing experiences of the past few days, and enjoy the full array of facilities aboard the expansive Coral Princess.

With no tours in the offing and no wake-up calls to set, we take the opportunity for a lie-in and give breakfast a miss completely. Instead, we wander down to the International Café for a coffee and pastry and take a stroll around the ship.

We are keen to take in lecturer Chris Roberts’ port talk on Grand Cayman – the next port of call – at 1.30pm, so we head for an early lunch at the Provence dining room. That gives us plenty of time to reach the Princess Theater and enjoy the last of Chris’ excellent port insights (sadly, he won’t be on the next cruise, as he’s contracted elsewhere, but there will, of course, be another expert lecturer to take his place).

In need of exercise, we take a couple of turns around the Promenade Deck and then have a look around the pool decks. The genuinely amazing thing about this ship is just how much space there is for lounging and relaxing. Almost everywhere you look there is somewhere open to enjoy the sun, the sea view or just a quiet corner. It is the perfect recipe for really enjoying your sea-going home.

This is also a major movie-going ship, with the chance to catch a film on the big Movies Under The Stars screen overlooking the Lido Deck, in the Princess Theater, the Explorers Lounge or just in your cabin on TV (with 4 dedicated movie channels). Today, we take in the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild in the main theatre – but wish we hadn’t. What total, inexplicable, atrocious nonsense. What was the Academy thinking??

Anyway, the more relaxed day also gives us the chance to review the cruise in more detail and decide what we like (and aren’t so keen about) over the eight days so far since we embarked back at Port Everglades.

What We Like

I’ve already said it, but the spaciousness of the ship is remarkable, easily the best we have seen on a vessel of this size (90,000 tons, 2,050 passengers). There is virtually nowhere that feels crowded, and the occasional bottleneck (initial disembarkation in port, occasionally at the Bordeaux dining room around 6pm and exiting the Princess Theater) usually smoothes out quickly.

The enormous variety of activities and programmes during the day is also impressive, with an imaginative array of options, from lectures and fitness seminars to daily trivia, bingo, deck games, music, dance classes and, of course, movies. There are usually three or four choices at any one time.

The ship is wonderfully steady and has great sea-going characteristics, which means she sails well, even in moderate weather. She is a sleek shape for a modern vessel, almost 970ft long and 106ft wide, but only 14 decks high, which makes her a bit less ‘top-heavy’ in appearance than many of her contemporaries.

Excellent dining choice – from the two main dining rooms (one for Anytime Dining, the other for fixed, regular seating), to the two signature alternative restaurants (Bayou Café & Steakhouse and Sabatini’s) and the newly-redesigned Horizon Court buffet, plus the on-deck Bar & Grill, Pizzeria and Ice Cream bar, plus the recent addition of the International Café, there is something for everyone at all times of the day. The addition of afternoon tea (on sea days) and a Pub Lunch (periodically throughout the cruise) provide even more reason to enjoy time aboard.

By the same token, the onboard service is rarely less than highly proficient and usually wonderfully personable, too. The bar service is a real highlight (notably in the Wheelhouse Bar) but the Bordeaux dining room, led by head waiters Carlos and Marius, is simply excellent.

And, as two places that epitomise pretty much all of the above, we especially enjoy spending time in the indoor Lotus Pool and the Bayou Café, where the restaurant/bar ambience is enhanced by the cool jazz sounds of the Argo Trio – possibly the best of the ship’s many live music offerings.

And What We Don’t

The stateroom shower. Ugh. This is so tiny it could have been designed in the 1980s, when most cabins were equally poorly designed, space-wise. My elbows have taken a real beating in here.

Early port disembarkations can be a bit chaotic; it’s almost the only time things feel a bit crowded from the 2,050 aboard. Then, and when leaving after a show at the Princess Theater, which has only two exits. The air-conditioning in the Theater also varied between Cold and Arctic. Taking a sweater or jacket here is highly advisable.

And that’s about all the negatives we can come up with so far. Definitely a lot on the plus side.

Tomorrow – Grand Cayman.

For more info and bookings – in the UK, call Princess Cruises on 0843 373 0333 or visit the expert cruise agents of The Cruise Line Limited on this link; in the US, call 1866 335 6379, or visit www.princess.com.