Shipboard Announcements

We’ve all been there. They say announcements won’t be in your cabin due to privacy and if you want to hear them, turn on whatever. Fair enough for things like bingo but what of the important ones?

The one thing I’ll never understand is why missing passenger calls before sailaway or when people are asked to go to reception due to some issue are ONLY in public areas.

Mr Smith from cabin 5315 could be asleep or in the shower and not realise they believe he’s not onboard. Money is wasted hanging around past the departure time due to them not checking properly everyone is accounted for.

Privacy is one thing but passenger call announcements SHOULD be everywhere regardless.

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Astoria Cruise – Rouen to Tilbury

We had a full day in Rainy Rouen as we’d be sailing at 1.15am for Honfleur the following morning. I had arranged to meet my good friend Marie Mariani after 12pm so had a wander. I had been twice before (the second time to meet up with Marie) but I love the place.

Then we had lunch at La Petite Bouffe, which is popular with students at lunchtime then turns into a restaurant at night. Both our delicious meals came to just €12.50.

I returned to the ship in time for afternoon tea while Marie went back to the cathedral.

The show after dinner was Around the World, which was brilliant. I’d love to know where the dancers get their energy from. We later sailed in the pouring rain.

I had a lazy day in Honfleur since the following day would be a long one getting home. We had received a letter explaining any unused money from the lost Amsterdam day would be refunded but still people weren’t happy and removed gratuities. Lunch in the dining room was interesting as our view, due to tide, was the dock wall. It rained most of the day but was sunny when we left 45 minutes late, the same time Peter Knego’s lecture started. We waited for a small cargo ship to pass then two tankers which were miles away. If that had been Southampton, we’d have gone between them. AIDAperla was docked in Le Havre.

Peter Knego lecture


Mike, me and Peter Knego by the original Stockholm bell which went down with the Andrea Doria after their collision in 1956.

It was the Baked Alaska parade with sparklers during dinner. Then comedian Gerry Graham was on again. I went to bed after that.

Gerry Graham as Max Wall

Morning and we were late. We had a medivac during the night and pulled into Calais. Someone had been taken ill during dinner resulting in the doctor being called, so we naturally wondered if it was them. Our 8am arrival was now 10.30am but we still had to be out of the cabin by 7.30am. I spoke to Julie and had permission to stay longer due to the stoma. Carol sat at my table for breakfast then we went to the lounge after I collected my stuff.

Then it all became farcical. Several people on the transfer coach to Victoria had connections but certainly weren’t a priority despite paying for it. Self-disembarkation went first, many of whom had cars or lived locally. Then Gold Columbus Club members. Coach was third and we finally left the terminal at 11.25am. It was a different company to our arrival. The driver had only been told that morning he was doing it and had been waiting since 10.15am. I was on the noon coach to Southampton, Carol the 12.30pm to Chippenham. Another lady was going to Edinburgh. Going by last year when the return journey had taken less time, Carol and I rebooked our respective coaches for one hour later. Things were going really well until the Embankment which is 10 minutes away in good traffic. There was an organised protest in Parliament Square which no one told the driver about so he could avoid the area. We finally arrived 2 hours after setting off so missed more connections.

Now we had been given a letter for National Express by Mark, the Guest Service Host, after we had said about losing money. It wasn’t exactly common knowledge surprisingly. Despite handing it over at Victoria, I was charged £5 to change my ticket while Carol had to buy a new one.

All in all, despite things beyond their control and extra expenses, I had a bloody great cruise on my favourite ship and cannot wait to go back.

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Astoria Cruise – Antwerp to Rouen

Sailaway was at 4pm and we had a band playing us off. We were waiting for one passenger but no idea if he was on the ship or didn’t make it.

It was formal night and the Captain’s reception. He talked about the ship and his history with her since 2006. The show was great followed by a cabaret where you could get up and dance.

Partial sea day as we headed to Rouen on the Sunday. Very windy. Comedian Gerry Graham was sat on deck with Mitch the cruise director.

Gerry Graham

We were due to pick up the pilot at 2pm but it was later. Then we commenced our transit along the Seine where we docked around 9pm.

The show was Gerry Graham, who was really funny. As we were allowed off, it as an ideal opportunity to photograph the ship lit up.

Gerry Graham

With Peter Knego and Mike

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Astoria Cruise – Tilbury to Antwerp

It was time for my spring cruise on this fabulous ship. In 2017, they had a short cruise to Amsterdam and Antwerp. This year was double, but again, it was the first after a winter lay-up. Cruise and Maritime Voyages share chartering this beauty with Rivages du Monde, who have her usually from May and during summer. Before resuming service, she was being prettied up in dry dock, leaving it on the 2nd March and Lisbon on the 5th.

2nd March 2018

5th March 2018

Two days before departure, CMV called late morning to say Astoria would now arrive Friday the 9th due to weather delaying her Lisbon departure. Amsterdam was cancelled and would be refunded. They were also giving £50 onboard credit and any you don’t use, she said, they were looking at refunding. Any out of pocket expenses should be emailed to them. In my case there was a hotel it was too late for free cancellation, more expensive one booked and outbound coach ticket. They later sent out a text.

It buggered up a lot of plans but at least they let people know in time to hopefully alter them.

My new hotel was a stone’s throw from Victoria Coach Station. Having been a regular National Express coach user since 1987, I knew the area pretty well and where to find food. After settling in, I went for a little wander.

Meanwhile, Astoria was still slowly making her way to Tilbury. Svitzer Madeleine on her stern as she approached, who was once a familiar sight in Southampton.

Tilbury is quite difficult to get to without a car or living in Gravesend, but CMV have a coach transfer to and from Victoria Coach Station. I was impressed with it last time so booked it again. As with 2017, it was at 11am. Originally, I had a coach booked from Southampton at the crack of yawn (hence booking a hotel since the buses wouldn’t get me into town on time) and would change in London. This at least gave me a bit of a lie-in.

As with last year, it went smoothly. The CMV rep arrived around 10am, highlighted our names and handed out the health questionnaire and revised itinerary. Boarding was from Gate 2 as Gate 1 was closed for work. I saw Carol, who I’d met on the transfer last year and met Rob Guest from Facebook.

We arrived just before 1pm. Due to my parastomal hernia returning and Ileostomy, they allowed me to do priority check-in with Carol. The queue was absolutely horrendous. We were on at 1.15pm. Lunch! It was much better organised than last year but maybe due to so many in the terminal.

Muster was scheduled for 2.30pm but was 15 minutes late. Broadcast broke off three times and we didn’t go to the lifeboats, probably due to rain. Sailaway was slightly delayed due to traffic.

I went to reception about the onboard credit and discovered they day missed was non-refundable like the £50. That’s not good when you’re not a big spender like me and a lot of money to lose. The receptionist told me there had been a lot of complaints and they had emailed the finance department.

Dinner was good. Peter Knego managed to get us all a table together so I went from table 66 to 6. Our waiter was excellent and replaced my supposedly bell pepper free Thai salad with one that had none. Then we saw the show which the cruise director took part in too. Then it was time for bed after a long day.

Morning in Antwerp. I decided not to go into the city since it would be a long day in Rouen and I ached after the travelling. So I chilled, had lunch with Carol then wandered.

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What Next For The Astor Sisters?

News today that CMV Travel & Leisure Group has purchased Pacific Eden from Carnival Corporation to summer for Transocean Kreuzfahrten in Germany and winter in Australia. This is currently done by Astor so you have to wonder what future she has.

Entering service in 1987 and designed as a slightly larger version to her predecessor, she had a few owners but has been Astor the longest and with Transocean since 2001.

Astor in Zeebrugge 2008

Astor in Southampton 2012

She isn’t the only former Safmarine Astor to face an uncertain future. The original from 1981, now Saga Pearl II, is ending her career with Saga in April 2019 after 9 years. At one time, she was a fleetmate to her sister under the Transocean banner as Astoria (not to be confused with the CMV ship of the same name) until 2009.

Astoria in Southampton 2008

Saga Pearl II in Southampton 2015

So, what is to become of these sisters? While CMV have their classics, they have also expanded in recent years by acquiring larger tonnage such as Magellan and Columbus. Far too many old girls have become memories and history or end their days as casino ships in the Far East. Will these or will someone reunite them to sail together again? I hope we find out soon.

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Switching Cruise Line Loyalty

One subject I often see these days on various cruising discussion groups is dissatisfaction with a favoured cruise line constantly cutting back onboard and making loyalty a waste of time as they reduce perks.

When I began cruising in 2006, staying with the same line never occurred to me. I enjoy experiencing different things. In my first 12 months I sailed Cunard, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, P&O UK and NCL. I had so many booked before setting foot on a ship so it was a good job I liked to cruise! I have now sailed on 10 cruise lines and found they all have their plus and minus points.

While trying something new isn’t a modern phenomenon, it has become more prevalent over the past few years as people tire of what they loved becoming unrecognisable as they make changes to attract a younger demographic and more first timers.

MSC has introduced Status Match to lure passengers across at the expense of perks to their loyal Voyagers Club Black Card members who have paid the money all these years. The problem is, far too many won’t be going back due to the line being more international.

One bugbear of mine on main lines is taking away public areas and replacing them with cabins and pay restaurants while leaving less space for the increased passenger numbers. Royal Caribbean is probably the worst for that and if I only sailed with them, it would most likely make me look elsewhere.

With so much information at our fingertips these days, it’s very easy to be put off changing due to bad reviews or someone’s awful experience.

My advice would be to ignore it all and go with an open mind. Cruising, like everything in life, is subjective. One person’s best cruise ever is another’s cruise from hell.

I learned this lesson when I sailed on the 2 night inaugural of Norwegian Gem. I had read so many bad things about NCL I dreaded it. But I needn’t have worried. It was a fantastic cruise. I enjoyed the ship, the crew, Freestyle dining and have sailed Jade, Epic, Breakaway and Getaway since.

No cruise is perfect and I’m always surprised when some claim theirs was then attack those who had been on the same one, writing in detail the negatives they had encountered, which are agreed with.

So should you see if the grass as greener away from your comfort zone? I’d say so. You won’t know unless to take the leap into the unknown.

Bon voyage – whichever line you choose!

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Happy 70th Astoria!

This little beauty entered service as Stockholm for Swedish America Line on the 21st February 1948, setting sail from Gothenburg to New York. She came to international attention in July 1956 when she and the Andrea Doria collided off Nantucket, resulting in the latter sinking and bow of Stockholm being ripped off. She made it back to New York. It is one maritime disaster which can cause division over who was to blame but the crew on the bridge both made mistakes.

She was eventually sold to the East German government in 1960 and became Völkerfreundschaft, which she remained as until 1985, then reduced to Volker. She was laid up in Southampton, as seen here in photos by John Kennedy, before beoming accommodation in Norway for asylum seekers as Fridtjof Nansen.

© John Kennedy

© John Kennedy

© John Kennedy

Big changes were afoot in 1989 when she was sold once again and completely rebuilt from the hull upwards to her current profile in Genoa, home of the Andrea Doria. She was given a few names during this period – Italia I, Italia Prima and Valtur Prima (which is still visible on her bow). She was seen back in Southampton as Italian Prima, captured again by John Kennedy.

© John Kennedy 6th May 1997

After another lay-up in Cuba 2001, she became Caribe for Festival Cruises, continuing to sail in Cuba.

Classic International Cruises acquired her in 2005, renaming her Athena. This was the name I first saw her under anchored off Madeira in 2007 then Tenerife in 2008.

Athena in Madeira 31st December 2007

Athena in Tenerife 2nd January 2008

Athena in Tenerife 2nd January 2008

Athena in Tenerife 2nd January 2008

Athena in Tenerife 2nd January 2008

Athena came to Southampton yet again in 2009 during a brief charter with German operator, Phoenix Reisen.

9th September 2009

9th September 2009

CIC went bust in 2012 and their five ships were up for grabs after being arrested. Portuscale Cruises in Portugal bought four, including Athena. She had been arrested in Marseille and that was where she underwent dry docking, emerging officially as Azores on the 10th March 2014. She was chartered by the German firm Ambiente Kreuzfahrten but there were delays due to a safety certificate, having been scheduled to begin the cruise season from Bremerhaven on the 16th March. Ambiente Kreuzfahrten already had their fingers burnt by CIC’s bankruptcy, losing Princess Daphne for the 2013 season. They gave up the cruise business on the 5th September 2014.

All was not lost. While her Portuscale fleet mates were struggling to get charters and Lisboa (ex-Princess Danae) went to the breakers, another cruise line came in.

Cruise and Maritime Voyages lost Discovery in October 2014 when she was withdrawn by her owners All Leisure Group and sold to breakers, so were looking for another ship.

She entered service for them in January 2015 and was successful. The following year, she was renamed Astoria and they shared her with the French company, Rivages du Monde, who chartered her between May and November. She called into Southampton that year.

In June that year, CMV announced her final season for them would be between the 9th March and 27th April 2017. Eight months later, they changed their minds, adding another spring season in 2018 between 8th March and 5th May, when she will once again head to Rivages du Monde for summer. It was because of their original plans I finally got to travel on her and experience all her quirks.

Stockholm bell which had been at the bottom of the ocean.

A further announcement came in April 2017 about an autumn season commencing from Poole on the 31st August 2018 before moving to Portsmouth from the 16th September until 31st October. Another spring season commences from Poole on the 7th March 2019.

We are very lucky to still have these old girls with us. I wish major cruise lines would realise not everyone wants mega monsters with thousands of passengers and umpteen gimmicks. A lot of people just want a smaller ship to relax. Astoria has had a lucky life since the Andrea Doria incident. She has become a firm favourite. I just adore her and cannot wait to go back in March.

Happy birthday Astoria. Here’s to many more years at sea.

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