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!