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.

Posted in Cruise & Maritime Voyages, General, Saga Cruises, Transocean Kreuzfahrten | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Cruise & Maritime Voyages, Cruises, General, Portuscale Cruises, Ship Stalking, Southampton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Happening to Cruising?

The latest news about 23 people on Carnival Legend fighting and threatening passengers is very worrying. Security trying to control evidence is even more worrying. The guilty parties were offloaded during a diversion to Eden before getting back on course for Melbourne where everyone will disembark.

This is just the latest incident in a long line. On the 11th February, 6 people were removed from the P&O Australia ship, Pacific Explorer, after a brawl where a woman glassed someone. There is also video of two men fighting on a Carnival ship out of the US.

Since I started cruising in 2006, there have been fights resulting in passengers kicked off or arrested, murder, rape and an increase in people ‘falling off’, which anyone who has cruised knows is impossible unless you’re climbing or sitting on the rail or thrown overboard. None thankfully on my cruises but the way things are going, it’s only a matter of time.

What is happening to this safe, fun environments we all love? Is it the cuts to boost profit, resulting in less crew to look after everyone’s safety? Is it the heavily discounted fares to fill the ships since the mass market lines have too many and keep building even bigger ones? Is it the unlimited alcohol packages? Is it just people becoming selfish with it being their ‘right’ to behave how they like and crew or security afraid to step in for fear of being accused of assault and sued?

Enough is enough cruise lines! There is so much bad press over the above plus norovirus, at least a quarter of Carnival ships failing CDC inspections (including the newer ones) with things like food hidden in crew areas. Then there are the mechanical breakdowns within a year of having a refit, poor maintenance, fires. It’s enough to put you off cruising for life! It certainly may the newer cruisers they wish to attract while seasoned cruisers may just decide a land holiday is safer.

As someone who has done 66 cruises on 34 ships and 10 cruise lines, most of which have been solo, even I’m beginning to become wary as violence and ‘accidents’ happen more often. I’m used to fending off creeps who think every single woman is gagging for it – and they’re sober! Would the crew be there for me if I was in danger or just leave me to it? Something has got to give.

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Happy 10th Birthday Queen Victoria!

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to think of a ship birthday as being from the day they entered service, not when they were named. Cunard used to do that, hence QE2 being 21 in 1990 and doing a celebratory round Britain cruise then 35 in 2004 when Queen Mary 2 became flagship. It was only when they planned to sell her they had her 40 in 2007 rather than wait until 2009. That since caused confusion, especially with a 39 foot paying off pennant (well 6 of them) in 2008 and items sold onboard with 1967-2008.

But I digress. The QE2’s replacement has a long history. Queen Victoria was ordered using the same hull and layout as the Holland America Line ships Noordam and her Vista sisters and should have entered service in 2005. She was advertised in the 2004-2005 brochure with advance interest being registered for when they released itineraries.

After the brochure was published, it was announced the mostly built Queen Victoria was being transferred to P&O and became Arcadia, retaining the Cunard funnel and mast. They would be going back to the drawing board to design something more fitting for Cunard. The Vista design was still used as a basic platform but stretched, increasing tonnage from 82,000gt to 90,000gt. Internally several areas were completely changed such as Grand Lobby, inclusion of the Queens Room and Royal Arcade stairs.

She arrived into Southampton on a dry but bitterly cold morning on the 7th December 2007 and named by the Duchess of Cornwall on the 10th.

Hythe and Southampton had a Victoria themed night between 5pm-7pm on the 11th as preparations were underway for the maiden voyage.

Generally, Queen Victoria has remained unchanged during the years. She was the second to add dedicated single cabins in 2015, following Queen Elizabeth. There are only 9 of them tucked away behind the casino. 2012 is an inside while 2002 and 2004 are a different size.

In May 2017 she got the stern cabin addition, which had been rumoured after Arcadia got hers in 2010.

Sailing to refit in Palermo 5th May 2017

Sailing to refit in Palermo 5th May 2017

Returning from refit 3rd June 2017

Returning from refit 3rd June 2017

A few things were changed including Chart Room becoming Britannia Club, Cafe Carinthia becoming the new Chart Room and Cunardia shrinking. The nightclub Hemispheres was renamed The Yacht Club.

Chart Room December 2007-May 2017

Chart Room December 2007-May 2017

Chart Room December 2007-May 2017

Britannia Club June 2017 onwards

Britannia Club June 2017 onwards

Britannia Club June 2017 onwards

Cafe Carinthia December 2007-May 2017

Cafe Carinthia December 2007-May 2017

Cafe Carinthia December 2007-May 2017

The Chart Room June 2017 onwards

The Chart Room June 2017 onwards

The Chart Room June 2017 onwards

Cunardia December 2007-May 2017

Cunardia December 2007-May 2017

Cunardia June 2017 onwards

Cunardia June 2017 onwards

Cunardia June 2017 onwards

Considering her Vista roots, she is a superb as a 21st century Cunarder, giving you the wow factor as soon as you step aboard. Anyone who has been on the HALs or Arcadia can see why they went back to the drawing board for Cunard Line and a marvellous job they made of it too.

Happy birthday Queen Victoria. Here’s to many more!

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Cunard Cabin Confinement

With 64 cruises under my belt, I’ve usually been pretty lucky when it comes to requiring medical help onboard, even during a huge norovirus outbreak.

That all changed during my 65th and most recent cruise on Queen Victoria from Barcelona to Southampton.

I have what is supposed to be a temporary stoma after almost dying last year when my bowel was perforated and later ruptured after what should have been routine surgery. Since this I developed a humungous, crippling, parastomal hernia. Both of these, I was told in November 2016 by my surgeon, would be sorted at the beginning of April. Then he told me in June after lodging a complaint, it would be August.

My cruise was booked in January after All Leisure Group went bust and my 2 week Voyager cruise that same date cancelled, and paid off in July based on those words. Despite two pre-assessments and complaints, no date for surgery had ever been given. I decided to go and de-stress after the constant worry and pain of the past year.

Ironic then it was the hernia which led me to being confined after I began to get ill during our first sea day between Palma de Mallorca and Malaga. I felt better in Malaga but was bad again the following day in Gibraltar.

By the time we neared Lisbon 3 days later, I had to call someone, who misdiagnosed seasickness or a bug. A visit to the doctor after my confinement was lifted confirmed my diagnosis of possibly the beginnings of a strangulated hernia and also led to another bill. Thankfully AXA repaid all quickly bar the £25 excess.

You are given all sorts of paperwork for plague, even when you don’t have it and also a light menu to order from. It really is unappetising when you’ve been unwell and very dry. Specialist cleaners sanitise your room. Thankfully in my case it was only bathroom until I’d been freed then the entire cabin reeked, including bed covers.

It was an interesting experience, particularly as a solo traveller with no one to get anything for you. How many know you are not supposed to be charged if you order room service drinks when the medical team have confined you? I didn’t until one of the nurses told me. I had to constantly fight over that when they arrived, told I wouldn’t be charged after they checked but saw it included on my final bill so got it removed eventually with a little help from the letter for the insurance. Make sure you get one.

I have to say though, I was very impressed at how seriously Cunard take any sort of vomiting onboard one of their ships. There is too much finger pointing when there are outbreaks of norovirus but often, as many of you will all have seen, a lot don’t bother with hygiene then blame the cruise line when they fall ill. It was a relief not to have it, but know they need to be cautious. 

Thankfully, in my case, I did get as better as I was able to so enjoyed the last two full days of the cruise.

My only complaint is lack of communication. You are given the same room service number you dial by pressing the dedicated button on the phone and they have no idea you have been confined.

In my view, there should be a separate room service number for medical confinement, say to the Purser’s Office. A note on your account could be added with the date of confinement and release. The Purser could then submit your order and make it clear to them drinks are free.

So if you are travelling alone and the doctor has said you are not allowed to leave your cabin, don’t forget to double check with them about room service drinks charges.

I wish you healthy, unconfined travels!

Posted in Cruises, Cunard, General | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Saga Goes Retro

When Saga started ocean cruising in 1996, the ships had dark hulls with yellow funnels. After purchase of Bleu de France in 2011, they decided to go with a light blue funnel, the new logo spread across both sides, despite renderings for Saga Sapphire having the original.

© Saga Cruises

When their newbuild Spirit of Discovery was announced in September 2015, the yellow was back!

Saga Sapphire had been with us in Barcelona and followed when we got back to Southampton on the 13th November. She sailed to Bremerhaven for her annual refit that afternoon.

Barcelona 4th November 2017

Barcelona 4th November 2017

Southampton 13th November 2017

Southampton 13th November 2017

Sailing to Bremerhaven for refit 13th November 2017

She returned on the 2nd December, proudly sporting her new livery plus name plate and new font with her name on the bow and stern as Saga begins their latest branding change. Her original noon arrival had been changed numerous times from 12pm to 9am to 10.30pm to 8.30pm and finally 9pm, but she docked for 10pm so you couldn’t see her in all her glory, but at least her funnel shone brightly, taking you back in time.

She is due to return to service on the 3rd and will meet Saga Pearl II in Southampton on the 8th, the final time these two will be together in the port as SP2 will be finishing her career from January 2018 to April 2019 in Dover and Portsmouth.

I have been a huge fan of this ship since first seeing her as Europa in 1987 and have followed her closely since being handed over to Saga. She’s one of a handful who make me excited each time I see her or know she’ll be nearby. I’ll freeze and get soaked for her as much as I did for her predecessors. It’s always been a dream to sail on her but as I’m not quite 50, rich or media, know there’s zero chance. Thanks to Saga though, I have visited her twice and she was more fabulous than I’d imagined. I understood how the late journalist Steve Read felt when he behaved like an excited kid showing me around Saga Ruby the month before he died in 2011. Some ships get under your skin. But then, like him, I’m just someone who loves ships, cruising and experiencing what the product has to offer, though resigned to the fact she’ll have to be another that got away like Canberra, Norway, Saga Rose and Saga Ruby.

I expect she’ll be sold when the new Spirit of Adventure enters service in 2020 and that will be a very sad day. Saga Sapphire will be 39 then and with the market for older ships rapidly dwindling, my chances of sailing on her are even less. C’est la vie! Until that inevitable day comes, thousands of lucky people can continue to enjoy their cruises and the love Saga lavish on her.

Posted in Saga Cruises, Ship Stalking, Southampton | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments