CRUISE BRITAIN – AN UPDATE
New Crystal ships announced
With the UK summer cruise season in full swing, Cruise Britain has welcomed new members to the association and confirmed changes to the Steering Group.
Interim Chair Ian McQuade, Portland Port’s Commercial General Manager, is confirmed as Chair until December 2024. The Steering Group is back to full strength with the appointment of Paul Britton, Harbour Master & CEO, Dartmouth, who brings extensive cruise line experience and knowledge of boutique tender port operations to the group. In addition, Thea George, Senior Cruise Manager, ABP Southampton, will caretake Rebekah Keeler’s position on the Steering Group whilst Rebekah takes maternity leave.
The association has welcomed a number of new members so far this year. Aberdeen Harbour with its new deepwater South Harbour development offers access to Aberdeen, the Cairngorms National Park and Balmoral. The Peel Port cruise ports of Greenock (for Glasgow, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park) and Norfolk resort town Great Yarmouth, gateway to the Norfolk Broads, all are now members.
“We’re delighted to welcome new members to the Cruise Britain family as the association goes from strength to strength. Britain’s distinct national and regional identities help make our islands an outstanding cruise destination and provide a wealth of diverse itineraries within short sailing distances,” said Ian McQuade, Chair. ‘New colleagues bring new perspectives, support the sharing of best practice and really help us as we work to promote cruising to Britain both within the country and overseas.”
British ports are set to have their best season ever with a projected growth of 8% over 2019, the country’s previous record season. Some regions such as the South West, North West and Scotland are reporting likely figures in excess of this anticipated national growth rate.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has revealed that British and Irish passengers took 1.7 million cruises in 2022 with the number expected to exceed two million this year, and maybe even reach the 2.2 million of 2019. The numbers are helped by the introduction of P&O Ariva with up to 5,000 passengers every week. NCL effective abandoning of the British no-fly market has been more than made up with MSC basing Virtuosa at Southampton this summer.
AMSTERDAM TO CLOSE CRUISE TERMINAL?
The Netherlands largest city, and one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations has taken the decision to ban cruise ships from the city centre which will lead to the closure of the purpose-built central cruise terminal. It is already one of the most expensive cruise ports anywhere operations wise. Amsterdam has in the past welcomed more than 100 cruise ships each year. The impact will be felt across the cruise industry.
No date yet, and with a campaign to limit flights into Schiphol airport only time will tell if the anti-travel policy will have an ongoing effect.
TWO NEW SHIPS
This month Travel News Update reports on two ships of an earlier era, still very much around, and setting even higher standards, Crystal Serenity (www.btnews.co.uk/article/9685) and P&O Aurora. Both have featured in the past in Business Travel News.
With the collapse last summer of its Hong Kong based parent company Genting, Crystal Cruises and its two 6-star ships Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, were acquired by British luxury tour operator A&K (better known to most as Abercrombie & Kent). Plus, and in some ways more important, the brand.
Both ships are around 60,000 tons with about 1,000 passengers and offered an exceptional standard of service.
With A & K backing the project Crystal regulars will straight away experience the exceptional “6-star” service and one of the industry’s best staff-to-guest ratios. They will find updated and larger suites with artisanal finishes, refreshed specialty dining venues and cutting-edge onboard wellness, including the completely renovated and renamed Aurōra Spa. Additionally, there is a new sports court and re-energized entertainment and events. Capacity has been reduced to 650 guests for each ship. Previously it was around 1,000.
Serenity departed Marseille Monday 31 July for a 12-night cruise featuring Cannes (France); Calvi and Portofino (Italy); Monte Carlo (Monaco); Barcelona, Ibiza, Cartagena and Málaga (Spain); and Portimão (Portugal). She will spend the rest of the summer in the Mediterranean before repositioning to North America in September for Canadian and Caribbean sailings in the remainder of 2023 and followed by a highly anticipated 2024 World Cruise.
Crystal Symphony will begin its 2023 schedule with a maiden sailing 1 September from Athens to Istanbul. Following two Mediterranean cruises between Venice and Rome, the ship will transit the Suez Canal bound for the Holy Land, Dubai and the Indian Ocean. Crystal Symphony will then spend the end of the year in Australia and New Zealand.
Mike Johnson is something of a travel industry guru having been at British Airways, Brymon Airways as General Manager in its heyday, and in more recent times a hotel owner in Newquay.
Earlier this summer, with wife Ann, he took a cruise on P&O Arcadia. It’s childfree, as is its sister ship Aurora, a sort of Saga Discovery, but under 50s welcome.
Here are his words.
“Arcadia entered service in April 2005 named by Dame Kelly Holmes. It comes in at a gross tonnage of 84,343 and has a capacity of 2,094 passengers with a crew of 866. P&O fleet now musters seven ships.
Our journey was from Southampton, 16 nights around the Norwegian fjords, with some of the most fantastic scenery you can imagine, snow-capped mountains and water cascading down a wonderful site. And then onto the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.
Although only a medium size ship by today’s standards Arcadia still has plenty of areas to discover. There are a total of 15 dining and bar venues and the ship has its own pub, the Rising Sun, which is close by the casino.
I did like the walk around promenade deck, sometimes accompanied by my wife. It’s either that or the well-equipped fitness centre. There is a pair of warm sea water mid-size swimming pools, one with a sliding roof.
The two theatres both at the bow of the ship, include the three-level Palladium with a cabaret or musical show twice each evening comfortably seating up to 750 passengers with wonderful ambience. The Globe sits up to 200 guests whilst also doubling up as a night club later in the evening.
The Meridian Restaurant is set out at the back of the ship where you have beautiful views over the stern as you sail away to your next destination. Set out over two floors the upper one caters for Freedom Dining guests where you can come in anytime to dine between 18:00 and 21:00. Downstairs it is the British cruise ship traditional dining at 18:30 or 20:30, the earlier being more popular. If you have a special food requirement (Hindu and Kosher for example) P&O are pleased to offer at no extra cost, but pre-cruise booking is required.
There were many choices on the menus although I think that P&O have reduced the size of the portions offered on each plate, where once you were offered both a starter followed by a soup course now the soup is listed in with the “starters”.
The service however, by the staff has to be complimented, nothing was too much trouble, and I would further endorse that about all the crew on this ship, always smiling and ready to assist.
On offer was Ocean Grill, a Marco Pierre White speciality restaurant, the food was superb, plenty of choices and excellently served up for a £15 charge. Well worth the extra. Also fee paying is the Sidhu Restaurant on the Sky Deck (top of the ship) with excellent menus for the Indian food connoisseur. It also doubles up for suite guests with a truly excellent breakfast on offer every day between 08:00 until 09:30. The staff in this particular area were amazing, very helpful and again always happy.
The Belverdere is the buffet restaurant on Deck 9 which has about everything available whether it is for breakfast, lunch or dinner, with plenty of spaces available. With some ships this can get rather busy but on Arcadia it was always comfortable.
The shopping area on the Arcadia seems to cater mainly for ladies with clothing, handbags, plus jewellery, perfume and watches on sale but hardly anything for men!
The Cinema screening room caters for up to 30 guests showing some of the latest films whilst also being used for guest speakers on various subjects during the cruise on sea days.
The accommodation is what one would expect of a 3/4-star ship having inside cabins and those with picture windows only, but the same size as the balconies on the higher decks. It being a British ship cabin tea and coffee facilities are supplied in the cabin, not always the case with some cruise lines.
The Arcadia has 35 large suites (butler service) and 30 mini suites, all of which were completely full on this cruise with the largest a massive 843sq ft. All the suites include a Hydro Massage in the bath. This is wonderfully relaxing after a day touring around one of the ports visited. There is a separate shower for those who do not want to sit in a bath.
The decor throughout the ship is tasteful and in most areas the carpeting is still looking in excellent condition. In some of the bedrooms it needs replacing!
Although most things on the Arcadia are fine and have not changed much over the years one area in particular that should also be addressed is the retail offerings. Whilst it does have a full daily programme for when you are at sea, all day there is not a lot to actually do!
The ship is scheduled for a refit in 2024 when upgrades will be made. My recommendation is to ask passengers in the next few months for suggestions. And as part of P&O marketing organise a proper feedback. It would show that the company cares. It costs virtually nothing with email.
The menus can be improved to match other competing lines. Guests talk amongst themselves and some will not come back!
Arcadia is a fine “Adults Only” ship with plenty of life left in her. We might return but P&O really does need to ask previous clients (and those over this summer) what’s needed in the 2024 docking.
For the balance of this year Arcadia features in Northern Europe, the Canaries and the Mediterranean with some real bargains available. And if you fancy a sojourn in Florida, ten nights to Fort Lauderdale is currently being advertised at just £1,475, and they bring you back by air to Heathrow. It is the first leg of a 99-night World Cruise westbound starting 6 January, crossing the Meridian and home by 15 April and spring.
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