LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID OCT 16, 2021

LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID OCT 16, 2021

From Bill Miller

Update:  October 15th 2021

Fri Oct 1  Carnival Update: Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, described 2020 as a “trying but inspiring time” during last week’s “State of the Cruise Industry” panel in Miami Beach. Donald called 2020 transformative, and now has his sights set on the recovery. “We know where the road is headed and the road is headed toward a very bright future … but the road does have potholes and detours in it. It has been choppy and complicated,” said Donald, noting the Carnival brand had 11 ships back in service at 70 percent occupancy.  Across the corporation, the cruise brands in service for Carnival Corporation are averaging 68 percent occupancy, he noted.

Below:  The Carnival Glory berthed in nighttime St Thomas by fine photographer Andy Hernandez

American Queen Steamboat Co and Victory Cruise Lines have joined and become American Queen Voyages.
Cruising:  Staggering!  2020’s cruise passenger count plummeted to 5.8 million globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, an 81% decrease from the 29.7 million in 2019.
Below:   The AIDAmar in dry dock at Hamburg.

Onboard the Crystal SymphonyThere was a small covid outbreak onboard earlier this week and our dear friend George Chandler was aboard and was loyally “on duty” as one of our agents.  He reported, “Just had an update [from Thu Sep 30th] on the covid situation, heard at the front desk this morning, that the 5 people who tested positive have remained in Bermuda under quarantine and the 21 people they were in contact were retested and remain negative, and were returned to the ship on Monday. Otherwise, now heading back to NYC under cloudy skies.”
Sat Oct 2nd   Portugal:  Lisbon is officially back in business as the port and it is expecting 45 cruise calls in October following 13 calls in September.

Sun Oct 3rd Carnival Cruise Line unveiled a unique two week cruise to Greenland from Baltimore in 2023 a week ago.  A big hit!    It sold out in 24 hrs and so the Company has scheduled a second.  The cruises will be aboard the Carnival Legend.  

New Generation of Cruise Ships:   You can ride a roller coaster on the new Carnival Mardi Gras (below) or visit the tattoo parlor on Virgin’s  Scarlet Lady (bottom below) or munch in gourmet specialty restaurants on the likes of Spanish octopus with sunchokes and muhammara, hanger steak with mint and anchovies or goat cheese polenta with fancy stuff toppings.   Or  reach into your bank account and book passage  in an $11,000-a-day penthouse on Regent.  Yes, cruising – and the resumption of cruising – has moved to yet higher dimensions.   
Sun Oct 4th India’s Narcotics Control Bureau has busted a rave party onboard a cruise ship off the coast of Mumbai. A team of NCB officials seized drugs such as cocaine, hashish and MDMA during the raid onboard Cordelia Cruise Line’s Empress.Passenger Preferences:  We find it interesting how cruise travelers prefer one ship over another – and sometimes within the same cruise line.  For example, our dear friend & frequent fellow traveler Rosemary Barnhardt wrote to us recently:  “We love Crystal Cruises.  But  Lee and I still so much prefer the subdued beauty of the Crystal Symphony [seen below at Pier 88, New York] to her rather bright-colored near-sister, the Crystal Serenity.”
Mon Oct 4th China:  The 930-passenger Zhao Shang Yi Dun – formerly known as the Viking Sun of Viking Ocean Cruises – has become the first cruise ship to resume commercial voyages with guests in China. The ship has set sail on an eight-day “Charming South China Sea” cruise departing from Shenzhen, sailing to Sanya and then returning to Shenzhen.  The ship combines European and Chinese elements to bring guests “diversified cultural and artistic entertainment programs,” according to the press release.Onboard, China Merchants Viking Cruises and Shanghai Wenguang Performing Arts Group SMG Live have created unique shows for the Star Theater onboard. These shows combine original Broadway classic musical tracks and drama performances that integrate elements like dance and audience interaction. Each voyage will also have different guest performers that will bring “surprise performances” to the guests. Additionally, the Zhao Shang Yi Dun offers onboard lectures on culture, art, natural sciences and food and has 2,000 hand-picked books available in the ship’s several public reading areas.Storylines, the upcoming private residence cruise line, has introduced a new collection of upscale homes at sea. The company said that it previously provided more affordable entry-level options into the condo ship market, with the vast majority of homes being studio and one-bedroom units in the 237 to 754 sq. feet range starting around $350,000. However, the largest two-story penthouse residences – at 1,529 sq. feet and $8M – were in short supply, and there were many consumer requests for intermediate two and three-bedroom options. To facilitate that, Storylines said that it has reconfigured some smaller residences to create 84 new larger homes ranging from 909-1417 sq. feet, with purchasing options starting from $2,455,000.

Tue Oct 5th Southampton, England: Our loyal friend Dave Smith  reports:   “Fresh out of a long refit & overhaul at Brest, the Queen Mary 2 has been docked at Berth 101 in Southampton docks since Friday.  She is docked next to Mayflower Park & the people taking photos & just seeing her are in the hundreds.  What an advert for Southampton & for Cunard!  But I don’t know how long she will be in Port.  In other local news, the 600 ft-plus chimney at Fawley Power station on Southampton Water will be felled at 7am on Sunday 31st October.  There is a mile & a half ‘stay outside zone’. We will have a great view from across the water at Hamble & Netley Abbey beaches.  They are going to build 1,500 homes there. And the Rank Hovis Building just inside Dock Gate 4 has been knocked down & they are going to build homes & leisure park there.”  Vintage Southampton in 1925 below – with the Aquitania, Homeric, Olympic & Araguaya at dock.

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Above:   Changing hands – a moodful view of Holland America’s Rotterdam & Amsterdam while laid-up and soon to be transferred (in 2020) to Fred Olsen Cruise Line.

Bits’n Pieces:  Brazil has officially agreed to a resumption of  cruising this winter (their summer, of course).  … MSC Cruises will restart, in Nov, 7-night North European cruises – calling at Hamburg, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Le Havre & Southampton – and each with thoughtful 12-hr stays in each port. … Boutique small-ship cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages announced in late Sep that it will introduce complimentary medical insurance for all passengers on all voyages, covering unexpected travel, medical and legal coverage, along with emergency evacuation. … Billionaire tycoon Richard Branson, who never liked cruising, looks to “disrupt” the industry with his Virgin Voyages.
His Scarlet Lady was set for its first US sailing Oct 6th. … More news from Atlas:  This luxurious, adventure, small-ship cruise line is one of the first cruise lines to sail at full capacity after the successful Aug debut of its first ship.  One of the company’s chief executives was one of my 6th grade students in a Hoboken middle school back in the mid 1990s. 
  
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Wed Oct 6th Crystal Cruises:  Our dear friend Jim Brochu is aboard the Crystal Symphony, lecturing and adding much joy.  Happily, a message from one of our favorite Broadway & television stars:    “Absolutely wonderful trip so far. The boarding process [at Pier 88, New York] was incredibly easy and took about an hour from start to finish.  Actually, it was very strange to pull up at the pier on a departure day and see no cars in front of us.  There’s 174 people on the ship and everybody has been keeping their social distance to be safe.. But when we all got our negative results [from Bermuda Govt health testing] last night, the festivities broke out and hugs were plentiful. And making things even better — lots of old friends on board.”

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Above:   Holland America’s Koningsdam in Norway

Turkey:   The iconic funnel of the Grand Celebration, the former Celebration of Carnival Cruise Lines, came tumbling down this week at a scrap yard at Aliaga in Turkey.

Fri Oct 8th Carnival Cruise Line announced plans for more ship restarts for Jan and Feb, as it works towards the return of its full fleet sailing from U.S. homeports in the spring of 2022.   With 17 ships scheduled to be operating by year-end, the Carnival Sunshine will restart from Charleston on Jan 13th and Carnival Liberty from Port Canaveral on Feb 11th.

More Snippets:  Norwegian Cruise Lines said his full fleet of 28 ships will resume service by Apr 1st for the first time since the Covid pandemic. … Jamaica is eagerly preparing for the resumption of cruise calls by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines beginning in November as well as 110+ planned cruise ship visits from Oct through Apr 2022 by Carnival Cruise Line. … 
Sat Oct 9th More from Carnival:  With half its U.S. fleet back in service and sailing from six U.S. homeports – the most in cruising – Carnival Cruise Line has had an accomplishment-filled three months since resuming guest operations this summer. The company’s restart began on Jul 3rd 2021 when the Carnival Vista set sail from Galveston and since then 10 additional ships have resumed service, carrying 237,000 guests from homeports along the East and West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico all while guests were devouring nearly half a million Guy Fieri burgers and enjoying 11,000 adrenaline-fueled rides on BOLT, the first roller coaster at sea that debuted on the new Mardi Gras last Jul 31st. But it’s more than just burgers and roller coaster rides, Carnival’s resumption of service has provided much-needed vacations to hundreds of thousands of loyal guests, a boost to the economies in its homeport and port-of-call communities and opportunities for its shipboard team members to support their families in 120 countries around the world.  

Sun Oct 10th Holland America:  Holland America Line is resuming service on the West Coast today as the Koningsdam welcomes guests back in San Diego. After a 19-month operational pause, the 2016-built vessel is starting a week-long California Coast voyage.

Mon Oct 11th Singapore:  Australia has finally announced the softening of some of its travel bans and so the likes of Cunard now plans a special long sailing next winter from Southampton to Singapore by the Queen Elizabeth.  

More Bits’n Pieces:  Ports such as Tampa & San Francisco are now planning resumption of cruise sailings.  … If you’re looking for an aviation-focused adventure, Singapore Airlines might have a good option for you. The airline operates the world’s longest flight, from New York-JFK to Singapore. But throughout the pandemic that 9,537-mile, 19-hour route has largely been off-limits to most travelers. Now, thanks to the recent news about Singapore relaxing entry requirements for vaccinated Americans, the flight is once again within reach for many.  It resumes Oct 19th. … 

Fri Oct 15th Update from Cunard:   A message from our dear & kind friend Capt Aseem Hashmi, master of the Queen Mary 2:  “I am currently aboard QM2 after just returning to the UK shores after a four- week dry dock in Brest (France). The dry dock was mainly for external projects, but the refit internally is in full swing. Almost 400 crew are joining this week so the ship is coming to life again!” 

At the podium:  Tentatively (well, it has to be tentative in these uncertain covid times), I am joining the Crystal Serenity as a speaker on Nov 1st-15th for two seven-night Miami/Bahamas cruises;   and then the Queen Mary 2 for her Christmas-New Year Caribbean cruise departing from New York on Dec 22nd, returning Jan 3rd.  

Out of the old shoebox:   

Below:  The Queen Mary 2 arriving at San Francisco for the first time in Jan 2007

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Thank you to all our readers, correspondents, those “agents” in faraway places! 

LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID – OCTOBER 3, 2021

LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID – OCTOBER 3, 2021

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Above:  Busy morning at Port Everglades in 1992 – the Costa Riviera & Canberra berthed together; the bow of the Star Princess is in the lower left.

From Bill Miller

Update:  September 2021

Fri Sep 17th Onboard Cunard:   Our dear & longtime friend Jeanette Stewart wrote to us today:   “Safely on board the Queen Elizabeth on the 14th and all going very well. Lots of staff and crew that are friends over many years are onboard and so I am being treated royally. Even better,  Inger is Capt so all is perfect. But altogether, a very strange time for all and for crew especially where they have had to learn new codes and procedures.   ‘New’ Cunarders are not aware of all of this and are excited just to be on board one of the Queens!!!! We old timers must hold our breath and give all our support to the team!”

Fri Sep 17th India:  The Empress has set sail from Mumbai on a two-night round voyage to nowhere. The 1,607-passenger ship, operated by new Indian startup cruise line Cordelia Cruises, has started operations.   Built in 1990, the 48,500-ton, 1,600-passenger  Empress is the former Nordic Empress and later Empress of the Seas (below)  of Royal Caribbean.  Later, she was used by Spain’s Pullmanturs, an arm of RCI.  She was sold to Indian owners just last year.

Sat Sep 18th New York City:   Today, our good friend Capt Justin Zizes has sent these fine photos of a maiden visitor in port – the 110,000-ton Scarlet Lady of Virgin Cruises.   Berthed at Pier 88, at West 48th Street, the Italian-built, 909-ft long ship has 17 decks (13 for passengers) and can carry 2,770 maximum passengers.  She is the first of three sisterships – the other two being Valiant Lady & Resilient Lady.

Royal Caribbean:  Being the largest ship in the world means plenty of space for new features. The 5,480-guest Wonder of the Seas – like all Royal Caribbean International Oasis-class ships – encompasses the neighborhood concept, albeit with the addition of the Wonder-special eighth neighborhood called Suite Class Neighborhood. The eighth neighborhood offers Royal Suite Class guests an elevated Suite Sun Deck in a new location, complete with a plunge pool, bar and plenty of loungers and nooks. Also new onboard the ship is Wonder Playscape, an underwater-themed play area for kids that features slides, climbing walls, games, puzzles, an interactive mural activated by touch, as well as scenic views. The new cantilevered pool bar named The Vue offers panoramic ocean views from high above on the pool deck all day. After sunset, The Vue shines bright with a colorful mosaic canopy overhead.

The Wonder of the Seas will debut in the U.S. and Europe instead of previously announced China. The ship is set to sail from its home in Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean on March 4th 2022, before making its way to Barcelona and Rome for a summer European season.

Sun Sep 19th New York:   It is beginning to look like normal – as the Scarlet Lady departed in  mid-afternoon, the Norwegian Breakaway was berthed at Pier 88.   Two cruise ships together and a scene not seen here in some 18 months!   Our good friend Capt Justin Zizes captured the Norwegian Breakaway before setting off for her first New York-based cruise.

Tue Sep 21st Cruising Today!  Cruise expert & journalist Gene Sloan has noted:   “Taking a cruise right now involves dealing with new hassles such as pre-cruise COVID-19 testing and once-unthinkable restrictions both onboard ships and on land. But it also brings some unexpected rewards, including experiencing ships and destinations that are in some cases far less crowded than they once were.”

Mr Sloan, who has been on 9 varied cruises in recent months, notes 9 points:

The pre-cruise process can be full of hassles

Onboard policies are varied, from line to line, ship to ship

Every destination is doing things differently

Itinerary disruptions are more common than ever

The onboard & onshore crowds are gone

Onboard service is better than ever

Covid-19 cases on ships seem relatively rare

Overall, things are changing fast – almost by the day!

Carnival:  With the Carnival Dream and Carnival Glory resuming guest operations on Sept 19th, Carnival Cruise Line now has 11 ships – representing half of its U.S. fleet – sailing again. Beginning with its return to guest operations on July 3rd with the Carnival Vista, the line is operating from seven U.S. homeports including Miami, Galveston, Seattle, Port Canaveral, Long Beach, Baltimore and New Orleans.

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Above:   In a fine photo by our good friend Andy Hernandez, the Mardi Gras – Carnival’s first ship – departs Nassau in Dec 1991.

Wed Sep 22nd  New York:   I was among a large contingent that boarded a specially chartered Circle Line boat at Pier 81 fifty-five years ago today, Sep 22nd 1967.  We were soon in the mid-Hudson awaiting a very special, very nostalgic, but quite sad sailing – the illustrious Queen Mary (below) was departing from New York for the very last time.   The 81,237-ton ship was sailing off to retirement after some 1,000 trips to and from England.   After 31 years of mostly great, grand & even heroic wartime service, the beloved Cunard liner was aged, tired and losing millions in competition with the airlines and speedy jet travel.  The 1,957-passenger ship was later sold to the City in Long Beach, California for use as a museum, hotel and collection of restaurants & shops.

Leaving China!  The Mediterranean is set to see a significant uptick of additional cruise capacity thanks to three ships that were set to sail in China in 2022 but have been redeployed. Carnival’s Costa brand will have two additional sister ships in the Mediterranean with the Costa Firenze (seen below) and Costa Venezia. Original plans were for both ships to be year-round in Asia serving the Chinese market. The redeployment means almost 8,500 additional Costa berths in Southern Europe for 2022. While the Costa Firenze was redeployed to Europe for 2021 and then for 2022, news followed this week that the Costa Venezia will move to the Eastern Mediterranean and sail round-trip cruises from Istanbul.

Royal Caribbean International is also making changes as the new Wonder of the Seas will not sail in China in 2022 but instead start her career in Port Everglades in March before moving to Europe for a summer of Western Mediterranean cruises.

Carnival Corp:  Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company operating over 80 cruise ships on nine cruise lines, is on pace to have 42 cruise ships back in service by the end of October. The 42 ships will be across eight of Carnival’s cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, P&O Cruises (UK), Cunard, and AIDA Cruises.

New York:   From his high-rise apartment along the West Side, our good friend Jim Brochu snapped the Crystal Symphony as it arrived yesterday.  The ship begins 7-night New York-Bermuda cruises.  

Fri Sep 24th More News from Carnival Cruise LinesCarnival Cruise Line announced this past week that it has officially changed the name of the Carnival Victory (seen below at Nassau in a photo from Andy Hernandez) to Carnival Radiance, which is in the final stages of a $200 million bow-to-stern makeover in Cadiz, Spain. The third in the line’s Sunshine-class series, the Carnival Radiance is scheduled to depart  Cadiz, Spain, on Oct 18th  starting a seven-week voyage to her eventual homeport in Long Beach, California with stops in Miami and a transit of the Panama Canal along the way. On Dec 13th, the Carnival Radiance makes her Southern California debut, kicking off a year-round schedule of three- and four-day cruises to Baja Mexico from the Long Beach Cruise Terminal.

Luxury Cruising:   Our good friend and world-class cruise journalist Anne Kalosh reports:  “New luxury cruise brands are emerging, along with a bevy of luxurious expedition ships, some taking exploration to a new level.  Explora Journeys is MSC Group’s four-ship endeavor, starting with the 64,000-ton, 750-passenger Explora I (seen below) in 2023 and one ship a year to follow. The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s 2022 debut is long-awaited. There is talk of other hotel brands seriously studying the sector. And Genting Hong Kong has proposed to build ships for luxury hotel brands that would be managed by Crystal.”

From MSC headquarters in Geneva:  “The MSC Group previously announced the company’s entry into the luxury cruise market with the launch of a new brand created for the next generation of discerning luxury travelers: Explora Journeys. Built by Fincantieri, the first of four luxury ships will set sail in 2023, with the remaining ships ready in 2024, 2025 and 2026. Each will utilize the latest in cutting-edge maritime technology to provide journeys of discovery through destinations on and off the beaten path. Guests will be hosted on a ship like no other, with the highest level of service and amenities.”

New York:  It seemed like the old days, pre-pandemic.   This week, 4 cruise ships have been in port:   the giant Oasis of the Seas, the inaugural visit of the Scarlet Lady, the return of the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Breakaway and the start of weekly cruises to Bermuda for the Crystal Symphony.  Each ship is operating at much reduced capacity levels.   

Late on Friday afternoon, in a splendid, copper-colored fading sunlight, I caught the Crystal Serenity as she left Pier 88 at 6pm.   The ship later passed the midtown skyline as it sparkled in that autumn sunshine.  The Hudson River itself was busy – shuttling ferries, graceful sailboats and a small host of dinner & sightseeing vessels.   Yes, it all seemed like the good ole’ days.   

Earlier in the week, a classic yacht, the 156-ft long, 10-passenger Arriva, was headed upriver – passing the Scarlet Lady, berthed at West 48th Street

Below:   Off & away for the Crystal Symphony – bound for Bermuda 

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And later a message from our good friend George Chandler:  “Dan and I boarded the Crystal Symphony yesterday [Fri afternoon] and it is a bit surreal. Only 180 passengers on-board. It is really like sailing to Bermuda on our own private yacht. And if their incredible service wasn’t enough, it is beyond the beyond!”

Sat Sep 25th  And More from Crystal:   Our dear friend Rosemary Barnhardt & her longtime partner Lee have just completed three back-to-back cruises on the Crystal Serenity (below), weekly 7-night itineraries from Miami to the Bahamas.   A grand & longtime cruising expert, Rosemary is ex-Royal Viking Line staff and also a onetime world cruise hostess on Crystal itself.   Part of her message said:  “On all three 7-day cruises, there were no more than 225 guests ever onboard, with some 500 staff and crew. Actually, on the latter two of our cruises, there were only 180 passengers on board.  Each of the three cruise segments brought new faces and each week the atmosphere of the cruise changed.  The first 7 days was an older crowd, all very friendly and easy to meet. The second 7 days, new guests were about the same age, but not as gregarious as the first sailing.  Then the last week on board, it was a lively group of many 50-year-olds, plus 10-15 Spanish-speaking guests. The ship really came alive, mostly because the younger crowd was so noisy!

With the wide crew to passenger ratio, by the third week we got to know better many of the crew who were at our beck and call.  We had time to get to learn more about our Butler Aleks from Serbia and linger a little longer in the Bistro to chat with the waiters. And at meals in all the restaurants there were always many servers standing around who were so happy to talk … of their families; how long they had been employed with Crystal; when they arrived back to the ship and when they would be returning home.  Most interesting was sharing stories of passengers we had sailed with in the past and who most of the food servers in any venue knew and remembered too. They of course wouldn’t mention any names, but if we did, they would open up!  But, of course, no stories “out of school”!”

Below:   The Crystal Serenity anchored off Martinique

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Princess Cruises welcomed guests from the Port of Los Angeles this afternoon, marking the first cruise vacation departure from San Pedro since the cruise industry’s pause in operations early last year. Onboard the Grand Princess (below), there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially welcoming the first guests on board. Earlier in the week, Princess officials visited the ship to thank the officers and crew for being the stars of the show harkening back to the cruise lines’ history as the ocean-going co-star of the hit TV series The Love Boat and its recognition in 2018 by the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Princess Cruises, Los Angeles’ hometown cruise line, has been sailing out of the Port of Los Angeles since 1965 and does so more frequently than any other cruise line. Over the past decade, Princess had more than 700 ship visits in Los Angeles—the most of any line in the last decade. 

And More Carnival News:  The cruise giant has announced that bookings for the second half of 2022 are ahead of pre-pandemic levels.   The Company’s shares rose and is confident of a full rebound.

Below:   A superbly orchestrated photo by our great friend Andy Hernandez of the Oasis of the Seas, Carnival Sensation & Disney Wonder together at Nassau. 

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Mon Sep 27th Holland America Line plans to name its latest flagship vessel in the Netherlands next spring with UK travel agents among the
attendees. The 2,660-passenger Rotterdam, which was built in Italy and delivered to the line in July, is now
preparing to reposition to Fort Lauderdale next month. A shakedown cruise from Rotterdam to Amsterdam will take place
before the repositioning cruise on Oct 20th.

US cruiseship owners and their Washington lawyers are fighting to keep Swiss-based, Norwegian Torstein Hagen (Viking Cruises) from time-chartering his way into their protected domestic market in partnership with US offshore owner and shipbuilder Edison Chouest Offshore.  The time charter of the 386-passenger newbuilding Viking Mississippi — to be delivered in 2022 — has been the subject of controversy for at least two years behind closed doors in Washington.

Holland America:  Our good friend Dr Larry Miller has written from aboard the Eurodam and in the Eastern Mediterranean:  “We are here on a heavily revised itinerary that began in Piraeus.  We had booked the cruise for its daylight passage up the Dardanelles, an additional day in Istanbul, and a final full day in Venice.   When Turkey was raised to Level IV Covid a month ago, the itinerary was changed to Cyprus (two days), Croatia, and the full day in Venice was dropped. Now the cruise will end at the ship’s birthplace, La Margera.  We were not overly concerned with Covid, with full vaccinations plus a booster.  All passengers are masked inside except when eating or drinking. Our guide yesterday reported that they were getting the ships, but not the usual number of passengers.  With a capacity of roughly 2100, we have on board now 908.  According to the front desk, the first four sailings had 802, 753, 728, and 876 respectively.   In spite of what must have been high turnover from being laid up, staff seem well trained and, with this staff to passenger ratio, we get lots of attention.”

Tue Sep 28th Cruise Capacity:  Over 200 cruise ships are set to operate in October with paying guests aboard, with more megaships entering service in North America and more luxury and premium vessels also returning to service.  The 206 ships poised to operate from 65 brands in October represent over 350,000 berths in service and an 8 percent jump in capacity over September.

Royal Caribbean International again has the most capacity back in revenue operation, with 16 ships and over 60,000 berths. MSC Cruises comes next with 13 ships in action, and just under 50,000 berths, and is followed by Carnival Cruise Line, which has seen a quick ramp-up, and will have 13 ships in service in October.

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Above:  Busy day New York in Oct 2016

Wed Sep 29th UK-based Saga Cruises – which caters to over-50s – said its current booked cruise load factors were at 70 per cent for 2021/22, following legal restrictions on capacity for early cruises.  

Out of the old shoebox:   

Below:  The Britanis of Chandris Cruises berthed at Funchal, Madeira and behind Italian Line’s Michelangelo in a view from the late 1960s.

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Thank you to all our readers, correspondents, those “agents” in faraway places! 

LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID – SEP 16, 2021

LIVES OF THE LINERS: CRUISING & CRUISE SHIPS & COVID – SEP 16, 2021

From Bill Miller

Update:  September 2021

Wed Sep 8th Virgin Voyages:  The Scarlet Lady has set sail from Portsmouth, England, after spending the summer in the UK. According to a press release, the 2,800-passenger Virgin Voyages ship is now heading across the Atlantic to New York. Portsmouth International Port said that over 8,000 passengers enjoyed the Summer Soiree Series, which saw Virgin Voyages launch its world’s first commercial sailing from Portsmouth.

Carnival announced today that it has an agreement with the city of New Orleans and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide the Carnival Glory for first responders housing through Sep 18th.  The same ship is seen below on the right and berthed at New York.

Saga Cruises: A report from recent passengers: “At last we are back to cruising.  We did not quite believe it until we were on board and set sail.  It is lovely to be back on the Spirit of Discovery and she is as good as ever.  We are only 670 guests and 570 crew – the sort of ratio we like! The food is wonderful and the specialty restaurants are out of this world. Drinks are included, but we must stop having wine with lunch – just too decadent! 

We had to be tested before being allowed out of the car and to board. It was very well organised. We have to wear masks around the ship and in the theatre, but take them off when seated in a bar or at a restaurant table. They have installed very smart marble wash-basins in the restaurants and you have to wash your hands on entry. Everyone had to be tested again on Sunday before being allowed to dock in Gibraltar, but that was all fine. We did not get off. You can only get off to go on a ship’s tour. We have booked for 6 of the 8 ports we are going to as they are included and it will make a change. Probably nothing new!

It is really lovely to be sailing again after 21 months. The age on board is very high. I think it is just those trying to offload some of their cash and feel that at this stage in their life they might as well take a risk. We were talking to a 97-year-old in the queue to book for the fish restaurant, which is very popular. We have a few friends on board and have met some pleasant people. We enjoyed our lunchtime fish & chips in the open air at the back of the ship with Algeria just 20 miles away.”

Below:   Stephen Card’s splendid painting of sistership Spirit of Adventure

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Thu Sep 9th Queen Mary:  Closed for 18 months due to Covid and in declining condition, the 85-year-old Queen Mary has been described in local Long Beach, California press as being “shipwrecked!”  Another report headlined:  “A little-known real estate investment firm had big plans for the Queen Mary, but now they owe hundreds of millions to an array of creditors—and the fate of the city’s most famous asset is more uncertain than ever.”

Ritz-Carlton:  New luxury cruise line Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection has delayed its foray into the industry again — for the fifth time — citing shipyard issues due to COVID-19.  “While we are eager to welcome guests onboard the Evrima, we have had to reevaluate the timing of our first voyage given the rapidly changing circumstances and their impact on the Evrima’s completion.” 

Disney:  Have you always wanted to sail on a Disney Cruise Line ship that wasn’t overrun with kids? Now’s your chance! The family-focused cruise operator last Friday announced plans to only allow passengers vaccinated for COVID-19 on an upcoming Disney Wonder sailing through the Panama Canal. That means that — assuming vaccination eligibility rules don’t change in the coming weeks  — no children under the age of 12 would be allowed on the voyage. Children under the age of 12 currently are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

European Ferries are showing increases in passenger traffic with relaxation of some Covid restrictions.

Holland America:  By late spring 2022, Holland America Line will have a complete fleet back to cruising with the restart of operations for the Noordam, Oosterdam and Westerdam. The Noordam will restart with a March 14th 2022, cruise in Japan; Oosterdam will begin cruising May 1st  in the Mediterranean, and Westerdam will return to service May 8th  in Alaska.

Fri Sep 10th Carnival Corp is rolling out a new initiative making pre-cruise COVID-19 testing more convenient and accessible for travelers on Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn. Testing will be available at more than 1,500 Quest Diagnostics patient service centers and retail pharmacy testing locations throughout the US. 

Currently, all passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must present a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before their embarkation, along with additional health and safety requirements. Beginning Sept. 13, in accordance with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directives, all vaccinated travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than two days before their embarkation. For example, if a cruise leaves on Saturday, the test should be scheduled the Thursday before embarking.

MSC Cruises:  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the MSC Divina for its conditional sailing certificate following the completion of a simulated voyage last week. This will make MSC Cruises’ 11th ship to resume cruising globally and the brand’s first to sail from Port Canaveral.

Crystal replaces 2022 world cruise with its 2022 “Grand Voyage, Caribbean Idylls & Mediterranean Masterpieces,” a 132-night odyssey on the Crystal Serenity from Miami to Los Angeles, Jan 17th  to May 29th.

Stockholm:  Unlike many other European ports, the port of Stockholm has stayed open throughout the pandemic.

Mon Sep 13th  TUI Cruises, the big German cruise line,  has stated that it is suspending the Asian deployment of the Mein Schiff 5, which was due to start in Nov 2021, and taking the 2,500-passenger vessel out of service.  The 100,000-ton ship will initially take a break starting at the end of Oct. The reason as reported:  “We at TUI   cannot start the Asia season with Mein Schiff 5 in Nov as planned due to the ongoing corona-related travel restrictions in the region. The Mein Schiff 5 was previously scheduled for a season in Asia through May 2022. Sailings to/from Dubai, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan were part of the schedule.”

Virgin Cruises’ Scarlet Lady has arrived in New York on its first call and is berthed at the Cape Liberty cruise terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey (but later moved to Pier 88 in Manhattan and therefore the first cruise ship to berth there in some 18 months).

Wed Sep 15th Return!  The cruising restart has seen a positive trend over the past few months. Fueled by various countries and markets reopening ports to cruise vessels, the industry saw an unprecedented number of vessels resuming revenue operations around the world over the summer. As the restart continues, 205 ships are expected to be in guest operations by the end of September. This number means that, for the second month in a row, nearly half of the entire global cruise fleet is in operation.  The combined fleets of the nearly 90 active cruise lines currently account for approximately 410 cruise ships. After significant growth over the previous months, 190 cruise ships were sailing with paying guests by Aug 31st. With 15 additional ships entering service through the end of September, the active cruise fleet is growing nearly 8 percent this month.

AIDA Cruises has denied that it had plans to use its 2,030-passenger ship AIDAbella (below) as a ”quarantine ship” for Covid-infected patients.

Egypt:  Said to have been sold (just last year) to Egyptian buyers for use as a floating hotel in the Middle East (lastly, at Jeddah), the former Albatros (seen below) – operated by Germany’s Phoenix Reisen – now has gone instead to Indian scrap merchants.   Under the temporary name of Tros, the 28,500-ton ship has sailed off to the beaches of Alang (in late July) and to the wrecking crews.   The 48-year-old ship is the former Royal Viking Sea of Royal Viking Line.  Altogether, the 850-passenger ship had a varied life – in the mid ‘80s, she became the Royal Odyssey for Royal Cruise Line, then Norwegian Star for NCL and later for their shortlived Australian arm called Norwegian Capricorn Lines, then did a stint in lay-up as the renamed Crown, but then re-emerged on charter to Star Cruises (in the Far East) and then went over to the shortlived Spanish Cruise Lines as the Crown Mare Nostrum.  The Germans took her in 2004.  

Norwegian Cruise Lines: More and more, cruise lines are coming up with different, even unusual itineraries.   How about Christmas-New Year in southern Africa?  NCL’s Norwegian Jade (below) will sail on a 12-night itinerary from   Cape Town (South Africa) and then call at  Mossel Bay (South Africa), Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Richard’s Bay (South Africa), Durban (South Africa), Luderitz (Namibia) and Walvis Bay (Namibia).

Short Cruises!  Our good friend & grand cruise enthusiast Andy Hernandez wrote today:  “I’ve been on several short Bahamas cruises since the ships resumed service.  I did the MSC Meraviglia (below) recently and am going to sail on Freedom of the Seas in about 10 days. While it’s been sad to see these ships sailing almost empty, it’s sure nice to have the ship all to yourself!   The Meraviglia sailed with just 750 on board (capacity is about 5600).”

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And from over in England, our dear friend Maureen Ryan wrote:  “I disembarked the Queen Elizabeth yesterda – it was great to be back on board and everyone on the ship was so helpful and kind — had a lovely cabin, flowers, etc.  Embarkation in Southampton was very smooth and fast, complete with Covid test.  Ship went to Glasgow, Liverpool and Belfast and shore excursions were popular.  The staff on board went out of their way to be helpful — lovely atmosphere.”

Thu Sep 16th New York:  Our good & learned friend Brad Hatry reports:   “New York City plans to welcome cruise ships back to its Manhattan terminal starting in late September. The city’s Economic Development Corporation will allow the mega ships back to Big Apple berths for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The agency expects about 50-60 cruise departures by the end of the city’s current fiscal year on June 30th 2022.”

Fri Sep 17th  Greece:  Our good friend Nikki Sepsas is one of the best lecturers on all the seas & one of the most knowledgeable.   Recently, he’s been in the Eastern Med and sent this report:  “I thought you might enjoy a look at what’s going on in the Med as I am 2 weeks into a 7-week lecture assignment with Seabourn.

Their newest ship, the Seabourn Ovation (seen below), began operations in July doing 7 day r/t cruises out of Piraeus. What is so nice is that guests who want to do back to back cruises can do 14 days without repeating the same ports. Rhodes is the only port featured on both their itineraries in the Greek isles.  Greece requires all arriving passengers to present a vaccination certificate. A Personal Locator Form (PLF) also required showing where you are the first 24 hours in country.  Seabourn embarkation also requires all guests to show a vaccination card, and an antigen test is administered at embarkation. In addition, all crew are fully vaccinated and they wear masks while in pubic areas. Guests are not required to wear them, but can do so if they choose.

Guests are happy to be traveling again and the crew are ecstatic about being back at work! Their enthusiasm and excitement are infectious! All ports are open to passengers. Masks are urged when in indoor venues (tavernas, etc) and required in cruise terminals. In addition, all guests and crew on the Ovation are tested every 7 days. Disembarking guests are given a printed copy of their test to present to the airlines for their return flight to the U.S. and at Immigration at their arrival airport as it is required for entry.

Have also seen ships of Celebrity, MSC, Costa, Viking, and others operating here in the eastern Med, even though numbers are far below capacity.  Bottom line is that cruise ships with fully vaccinated guests and crew are among the safest places to be today, especially in light of the spike in new cases in the US!”

Royal Caribbean’s newest and largest cruise ship, the 230,000-ton 6,800-passenger Wonder of the Seas, which was due to begin sailings from Shanghai, China, in early 2022, will now sail Caribbean and Mediterranean itineraries. Royal Caribbean, which restarted sailings from Singapore in late 2020 with the Quantum of the Seas, still has a presence in Asia. Due to COVID-19, however, China is currently not allowing cruises, so the line will relocate the Wonder of the Seas — the newest and largest in the line’s much-loved Oasis Class — to Fort Lauderdale, where it will begin a series of spring Caribbean voyages on March 4, 2022. Port calls will include Cozumel; St. Maarten; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, among others.

Out of the old shoebox:   

Below:  The Cunard Princess departing & the Vasco da Gama at her New York berth seen in the summer of 1989.

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Thank you to all our readers, correspondents, those “agents” in faraway places! 

A LITTLE POST CARD FROM THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY #2

A LITTLE POST CARD FROM THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY #2

From Bill Miller 

Thu Sep 2nd Bermuda:  A quiet, very restful day – lots of reading in a shady corner – then specially prepared Steak Tartar (by Roland, a longtime Austrian chef turned restaurant manager here on Crystal) for dinner, then a gala, high-spirited show (at 9 and themed to Broadway musicals) and finally the full band playing up on deck, under the stars & as we sail from Bermuda.  Then out into the dark abyss!

Below:   Bermuda is famous for its crystal clear, turquoise-blue waters … today, Michael found a small, rock-lined hideaway not too far from the ship itself for some quiet time, reading & swimming … 

Our friend Allan Davidson, a local Bermudian & former officer with the Furness-Bermuda Line, took this photo (above) of the Crystal Symphony by night   

Fri Sep 3rd at sea:   Sound the trumpets, well softly – he doesn’t like personal celebrations.  Today is Michael’s birthday and, quietly, we go off to Prego, the ship’s Italian grill, for a celebratory supper.   A delicious 5 courses!

Crystal is noted for its lecture program – absolutely one of the very best on all the seas:   authors, astronomers, movie stars, economists, political analysts and even experts telling us how to live longer & live better.   Myself, in 100 trips on Crystal (since Aug 1990), I’ve sailed with & enjoyed listening to countless celebrity speakers:   Walter Cronkite & Barbara Walters, Debbie Reynolds & Jane Russell, Marvin Hamlish & Dionne Warwick, Anne Jeffreys & Marion Ross, Art Linkletter & Hugh Downs, Dr Ruth & Rex Reed.   This trip, we have two splendid speakers:   General Anthony Zinni (below), with a huge military & US Government history and holder of no less than three PhDs;   and Dr Alec Murphy, a well regarded geographer.   Both present their talks with that great added ingredient:   passion for their subject.   (PS:   Alec Murphy discover today that we actually sailed together some 40 years ago, on the Polish liner Stefan Batory (in Sep 1981), traveling from London to Montreal.)

Otherwise, smooth, glass-like seas as we head north to Boston.

Fluffy towels, a shaded chair, a smiling steward delivers a tall glass of iced tea … 

Michael likes Hendrik’s gin for a pre-dinner drink!

A fiery ending to a dreamy day at sea!

A LITTLE POST CARD FROM THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY

A LITTLE POST CARD FROM THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY

From Bill Miller

All photos by Bill Miller: used with permission 

Tue Aug 31st Bermuda:  Knives & forks!  The food onboard is nothing short of superb – and of course wickedly appealing.   Tonight after a dinner of Caesar Salad, Boston clam chowder and grilled, well seasoned prawns, three of the many dessert offerings (in Waterside, the ship’s main restaurant) included a Vanilla Tart with Chocolate Flavors, French Apple Tart a la Mode and something called Dream of Raspberry Trifle.   (PS:   Behind the scenes, that small army of Austrian chefs & bakers are always thoughtful – no portion is too big, too overwhelming. And the presentation is usually on very large plates or canyon-style bowls.    But then, with little more than a yum-yum and even a slight smile, the waiter will deliver a 2nd helping!  Yes, it can all be downward in deep decay.)

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Elegant, beyond thoughtful and almost royally poised at 6 ½ feet in height, Dragan (from Serbia) has been a most splendid server!   He has been with Crystal Cruises for 21 years.

Wed Sep 1st Bermuda:  We have only 175 passengers aboard (950 is normally top capacity) – so with over 400 crew, the ratio is roughly 2-to-1.  A half-dozen waiters crowded round us at lunch and, at dinner, it was three servers & a wine stewardess.   A longtime Crystal regular later noted, “The entire ship is like a big yacht.   In your lectures, you used to say that on Crystal they all but chew the meat for you!   Well, now, they just about swallow it for you as well!   Can it get more pampered!”    And a lady on her very first Crystal voyage noted:   “This is spectacular!   I think I really am onboard one of the ‘floating palaces’ you talk about in your lectures.”

Now quite rare – a quartet of those red British phone boxes!

Hear ye, hear ye – Crystal’s back in town!

Berthed in the Dockyard, the former Royal Navy base here in still very British Bermuda, and then ashore for a café lunch with Stephen Card, a dear friend of some 40 years & of course the celebrated, very gifted, quite brilliant maritime artist.   His glorious paintings have been covers for many of my books.   But time has passed indeed – I still remember having dinner with Stephen here in Bermuda nearly 35 years ago, in June 1988,  on a cruise visit, but then on Royal Caribbean’s Nordic Prince.  Just two years ago, Stephen came aboard the Viking Sea for another happy dinner (but then docked in Hamilton).

Exotica!   Tonight, we dine in Umi Uma, the ship’s superb Asian grill.   Umi Uma (which means “seahorse” in Japanese and the symbol of Crystal Cruises) and which offers legendary Nobu’s fusion cuisine Japanese/Asian/Latin American.   Alone, there are 35 varieties of sushi.   But my choices are much more moderate:    Shrimp Tempura (with Nobu’s Dipping Sauce), then Soft Shell Crab Spring Rolls (with Nanban Salsa) followed by Filet of Wagyu Beef (with grilled onions & asparagus and coupled with 3 sauces accompanied by steamed Japanese vegetables & brown rice) and finished off with Vanilla & Coconut Tapioca Soup (really a cross between pudding & ice cream and served with green tea ice cream).  The setting alone is stunning, the food & service flawless.   (PS:   Remember that Crystal Cruises itself was Japanese owned until several years ago, but now comes under the umbrella of the Genting Hong Kong Group, the huge casino, hotel & travel operator.)

Often redecorated & restyled, Umi Uma began on the Company’s first ship, the Crystal Harmony (back in 1990), as Kyoto (and when guests were given ivory chopsticks) and then became Jade Garden and finally Silk Road.  It is quite divine & has always been a very “hot ticket” on Crystal ships.

Overnight in beautiful Bermuda … shoreside lights, the ship itself aglow, a few thousand stars overhead & so pleasant dreams!