Britain’s enthusiasm for cruising continued last year, with over 1.7 million Brits taking a cruise – the highest it has ever been – with one in eight of all package holidays taken as a cruise. According to the Passenger Shipping Association there was a 10% increase in holidaymakers embarking on cruise ships in a UK port of call. So, whether you have already organised a cruise for your group, or have yet to take this type of break, read on to find out about the latest ships, itineraries, cruising news and offers for GTOs.
A raft of new ships hits the seas!
There’s no shortage of new ships launching as the industry continues to invest in capacity and in offering competitive choices for the market, writes Jane Sarluis.
Norwegian Cruise Lines introduces its newest state-of-the-art 4,000-passenger ship, Breakaway, this spring, sailing seven-night cruises from New York to Bermuda through the summer. She’ll offer a huge variety of recreational, culinary and entertainment choices for adults and families, including 28 dining options, three Broadway shows, and an ice bar, whilst every voyage incorporates a firework display. On 13th October Breakaway will embark on a series of 25 seven-night cruises from New York to the Bahamas and Florida, and in January 2014, two 12-night Southern Caribbean itineraries. Norwegian will launch a second 4,000-passenger ship in February 2014, Getaway, to homeport in Miami and sail year-round to the Eastern Caribbean. A booking for more than eight double-occupancy state rooms constitutes a group and qualifies for special offers including guaranteed prices, one free berth for every 16 passengers on twin occupancy, and group points which can be spent on board for benefits such as cocktail parties.
“Prepare to be wowed!” was the only clue Royal Caribbean International gave of its much anticipated Quantum class of ship, and, finally, the details have been unveiled. Due to join the cruise line’s fleet of 21 when it sets sail from New York in autumn 2014, the groundbreaking Quantum of the Sea will offer its 4,180 guests a collection of ‘firsts at sea’ including the North Star, a glass capsule that will lift passengers to a heady 300 feet above the ocean for extraordinary views, a simulated sky-diving experience, and a lounge at the stern of the ship with floor to ceiling glass. Recreational activity includes a circus school, basketball court, bumper cars, roller-skating and disco. What’s more, Quantum’s sister ship, Anthem of the Sea, will launch six months later. Royal Caribbean has group-booking specialists to help GTOs who book eight or more staterooms and all cruises offer perks for groups, including discounts, upgrades and private events. Another Royal Caribbean ship, and the world’s largest cruiser, the Oasis of the Seas, will offer cruises in Europe for the first time in autumn 2014, including making its first ever port of call into Southampton on 15th October 2014, where guests can join the ship to sail across the Atlantic. Accommodating 6,400 guests at total capacity, Oasis of the Seas is longer than four football pitches, wider than almost six London buses parked end-to-end, and weighs in at 225,282 gross tons. On board features include an outdoor park about the size of a football pitch and an open air theatre.
The Duchess of Cambridge has been named as ‘Godmother’ to Royal Princess, the latest ship from Princess Cruises. Launching from Southampton on 13th June this year, Royal Princess will spend her maiden season sailing the Grand Mediterranean, before moving to the Eastern Caribbean for the autumn. The 3,600-passenger vessel features a vast atrium and a glass-bottomed walkway on the top deck extending 28 feet over the sea. Tickle the taste buds with 250 varieties of tea or enjoy ‘Movies Under the Stars’ and all with a healthy conscience as this will be Princess Cruises’ greenest ship yet. And there’s another ship in the offing, Regal Princess due in June 2014 with a host of unique – as yet undisclosed – features of her own.
There are numerous offers for groups: book ahead for guaranteed fares, free upgrades and free on-board extras. Groups also earn amenity points to be spent on board.
Europe’s largest cruise operator, Costa Cruises, will add the biggest Italian cruise ship afloat to their fleet in November – the Costa Diadema. With a capacity of 4,947, Costa Diadema promises beauty, comfort and sophistication in unmistakable Italian style. Her debut sailing will be a five-day cruise from Venice to Savona on 5th November 2014, which will be her homeport throughout the winter season. The Diadema will then be deployed on a one-week itinerary offering the chance to visit two of Italy’s must-see cities, Rome and Florence, on the same cruise. Port calls will be Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Civitavecchia and La Spezia. Exclusive cuisine, innovative entertainment and technology are promised on this new ship. When it comes to group incentives, there’s one free place in every 30.
German company Tui Cruises has two large ships in its fleet, Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2, and another two vessels launching over the next two years. Mein Schiff 3 is currently under construction in Finland and will set sail in May 2014 with a full itinerary for her inaugural season including the Canary Islands, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Northern Europe and the UK, the Caribbean, Dubai and the Orient, Western Europe and Transatlantic crossings. There’s capacity for 2,506 passengers and amongst its features are a glass-bottomed platform extending over the water’s surface from the 14th deck, and the first concert hall with dedicated acoustics at sea, where passengers can enjoy classical music, jazz and theatre. Mein Schiff 4 will launch in May 2015.
Carnival Cruises has the largest fleet of cruise ships in the industry, promoting a party atmosphere for groups of all ages with an appetite for fun. Following a $155 million transformation, Carnival Sunshine embarks on her first voyage in May this year. With room for 3,006 passengers, there will be facilities and services to please all, such as 10 new dining venues ranging from a milkshake bar to Asian cuisine and Serenity, Carnival’s largest adult-only spa retreat, whilst for passengers seeking a boost of adrenalin, there’s even waterslide racing. The ship’s itineraries will cover the Caribbean from New Orleans, or Europe from Venice or Barcelona. Carnival Cruises has a dedicated groups department and can offer flexible benefits for groups, which starts with 16 or more full fare guests staying in a minimum of eight staterooms, booked on one ship and sail date.
Small ships for small places
Azamara Club Cruises operate somewhere in the middle of the market when it comes to size, with the recently refurbished Azamara Journey serving 694 guests. The line promotes a club-like atmosphere where crew and fellow-voyagers benefit from a congenial feel. The Journey’s smaller size is an advantage when it comes to action on shore as she is able to sail into the city centre of Bordeaux, the heart of Seville, or get close to Hong Kong’s buzzing nightlife. On board there are bars, restaurants, lounges, a casino and cabaret, and many of the staterooms have verandas to the ocean. Itineraries include voyages to Asia and the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. There’s a dedicated department to assist GTOs and booking for more than five cabins earn reductions based on categories of rooms and itineraries.
For top-end operator Paul Gauguin Cruises, (PGC) life on the ocean wave has an exclusive edge with its two ships including the recently renovated Tere Moana. Serving an intimate 90 guests, this ship offers the allure of warm seas and hidden ports, where larger ships cannot sail, throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. The cruise line prides itself on Polynesian hospitality, and both its ships feature two restaurants with regionally inspired food and a luxury spa. Charter the boat for a large group and customise your voyage from dining to shore excursions. The cruise line also promotes its state-of-the-art multimedia facilities for business trips. PGC has a dedicated person looking after group bookings in their head office. The standard offer for groups is one free place for every 12 but they occasionally have special offers for one free place for every 10, and special events such as cocktail parties and shore excursions can be arranged for groups.
From Greenland to Micronesia, Antarctica to Japan, Silversea Cruises offers voyages to some truly far-flung places. Its latest itinerary is met by new fleet member Silver Galapagos, a 100-guest ship built for discovery of the remote Galapagos Islands. Due to make her maiden voyage in September this year, Silver Galapagos will offer guests the chance to enjoy close encounters with some extraordinary wildlife including giant tortoises, sea lions, penguins and Darwin’s famous finches with complimentary guided expeditions ashore. All suites have ocean-views, most with private balconies, and all offer the private services of a professional butler. Group organisers should enquire about special offers.
Billed as the ultimate luxury cruise ship, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2, takes its maiden voyage later this month. Built with state-of-art technology, this ship, with a maximum capacity of 516 guests, features modern, luxurious interiors, fine dining in a choice of eight restaurants, and an extensive spa. With themed itineraries in the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula and Asia, the Europa 2 will mainly operate seven-day voyages, moreover, with more crew on board than guests, passengers can anticipate gentle cosseting from the moment they step on board. Spectacular and exclusive shows have been commissioned and other entertainments include an on-board cookery school. Sister flagship, Europa, has a more traditional feel and already enjoys a five star plus reputation, according to the Berlitz Cruise Guide, and Europa 2 is set to join it. Group offers are available upon application.
Group specialist Saga, unveiled an exciting programme for 2014 where passengers are invited to join Dame Stella Rimington to uncover tales of espionage, remember the fallen 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War, or join Viking expert James Hodge in Norway on one of 37 new cruises unveiled by over-50s travel specialist Saga Cruises for 2014. Saga has combined new and surprising itineraries in its 2014 cruise brochure. First-time ports of call, expert lecturers and fascinating history will feature aboard Saga Sapphire and the Saga Pearl II.
The ships will sail from Dover and Southampton, with choices from four-night taster cruises in Europe to a 48-night voyage to the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa or a 35-night Caribbean cruise. All cruises include return chauffeur service to port, travel insurance, all meals and gratuities on board, port taxes and visas, and for groups one in ten goes free on ocean cruises in 2014.
Focus On Cruise & Maritime
Earlier this year, Cruise & Maritime voyages (CMV) announced that the Astor will join their fleet in November 2013 and will operate twice yearly ocean voyages between the UK, Australia and South Africa.
Leaving Civitavecchia (Rome) on 5th November, ports of calls on her inaugural cruise to Fremantle, Western Australia, will include Malta, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore and Bali. With 289 cabins including 42 suites, the Astor underwent a £14 million upgrade in 2010 and will be marketed as a premium four-star product. As well as many well appointed lounges, the ship features seven passenger decks, traditional wooden decks, extensive sports deck and a wellness centre with heated indoor pool.
The Astor will operate alongside CMV’s 800 passenger flagship marco polo and the 700 passenger discovery, both currently operating ‘no fly’ sailings from eight British ports. CMV made history earlier this year by being the first cruise company to sail from Bristol’s port, Avonmouth in 20 years. Seven cruises will leave from the port this year and nine are scheduled for 2014, making it an excellent departure point for groups travelling from the West Country.
Amongst the destinations on offer from CMV’s fleet are the Norwegian fjords, Baltic cities and Russia, Canary Islands, the Amazon and West Indies. The ships call at an interesting selection of ports on each cruise, and because of the smaller ship size, the ports can be more remote than are often accessible to larger cruise vessels.
All three ships offer value and quality, with a variety of entertainment including shows and lecture programmes, as well as sumptuous dining, and there are great deals for groups. These apply to parties of 12 adults upwards, and include discounts across all cabin types, free places for every 20 passengers and two free places for every 40 passengers booked. There’s also a ‘welcome on board’ cocktail party and preferential group dining arrangements.
Adrian’s Cruising Adventures
GTO’s Commercial Director, Adrian Gates, who celebrates 25 years with the magazine this year, likes to relax by going on a cruising holiday.
Though not a bona fide group organiser, Adrian has often organised small groups for his cruising breaks, as he frequently travels with his family including his wife, and sometimes his three sons and daughters and their respective wives, girlfriends and children.He says, “Travelling in a family group is very enjoyable. It gives us the chance to catch up in a relaxing environment, and when we go ashore we can split up to take account of our differing interests.”
Over the last 14 years he’s been on 12 cruises that’s seen him travel to many corners of the world from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean – and many countries in between. This spring he’s taken two cruises back to back. He returned from a trip around the Mediterranean, calling at Rome, Olympia, Izmir and Istanbul sailing on the Norwegian Jade with NCL, and three weeks later sailed off on a transatlantic voyage from Southampton to New York, again with NCL, on the maiden voyage of the Breakaway.
When Adrian is planning a cruise he looks for several factors. Sailing from the UK is convenient from an embarkation perspective, but, if your ship is bound for the Med then you need to remember that entails sailing across the Bay of Biscay, noted for it’s occasional choppy crossings, so during unsettled weather it can take at least two days before the ship reaches warmer climes. Therefore, flying to the port of embarkation can often be a better option. “There are some really good deals at the moment,” he says, “and on the Norwegian Jade, which we booked directly with NCL, we were lucky enough to be upgraded to the very spacious owner’s suite from the mini suite we originally booked.”
Adrian’s definitely got ‘sea legs’, as in all the time he’s been at sea, he’s only felt bilious on a couple of occasions – once whilst practicing with a ship’s choir, on one of the top decks during force eight winds!
Fred. Olsen celebrates 165 years of cruising
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is one of the most popular names in the UK cruise market. Founded in 1848 by three brothers, it remains one of the very few family-operated cruise companies in the world, writes Christophe Philipps.
Although Norwegian in origin, the company is based in Ipswich, Suffolk and cruises to destinations all around the world, from the Arctic Circle to South America, and from the Adriatic to the Caribbean. Departures are currently from nine regional ports – Dover, Southampton, Portsmouth, Harwich, Newcastle, Liverpool, Rosyth, Greenock, and Belfast – with two more, Tilbury and Avonmouth, being added in 2014. This means that the fleet of four ships – the Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch – operate from ports that are within 90 minutes of travelling time of 90% of the UK’s population.
Each of the ships is intimately-sized, ranging in the number of cabins from 423 on the Black Watch to 710 on Balmoral, and each is ideal for groups looking to visit some of the world’s less well-known ports. The size also encourages a friendly and relaxed atmosphere on board, as well as a personal touch, allowing staff the time to get to know guests and their needs, which is rarely found on larger vessels. With English as the main language and currency in sterling, it’s easy for groups to relax.
Fred. Olsen has won a number of prestigious awards, including the Group Travel Award for ‘Best Cruise Line Operator for Groups’ in 2011 and 2012, and its successful reputation with groups stems from its dedicated group sales team, who work closely with GTOs to ensure cruises are tailored to individual requirements. Groups receive a host of benefits, including free travel for group leaders on bookings of 20 or more, reduced rates for partners of group leaders, a free exclusive drinks party with canapés and drinks, preferential group dining and free coach transfers to and from the departure port or free car parking at the port.
While Fred. Olsen cruise ships visit plenty of eye-catching destinations, groups won’t be left wanting for things to see and do on board. As well as offering an à la carte dining experience, groups can enjoy a range of leisure facilities, such as swimming pools and gym equipment and an exciting programme of entertainment. Recent additions to the live line-up include leading Beatles tribute band ‘Beatlemania’ aboard the Boudicca’s ‘Liverpool & Dublin Discovery’ three-night mini-cruise, departing from Greenock in July.
Whilst Braemar is offering a bowls-themed cruise visiting Irish and Scottish ports, sailing from Dover on 14th August 2013, with the chance to hear bowling supremo Mark Royal lecture, and give tips on bowling techniques. Great deals are available for groups for this cruise including special promotional fares if booked before 31st May 2013.
The 2014/15 brochure includes itineraries that allow more time in destinations and additional activities on board, such as talks to enrich the holiday experience. Fred. Olsen was voted ‘Best for Learning’ by readers of Cruise International magazine in 2011 and 2012. Destinations include ports in the Amazon and Myanmar (formerly Burma), as well the less ‘far-flung’, such as Norway and the Mediterranean, and, ideal for groups that like adventure, there’s even a ‘Mystery Cruise’! Four cruises are planned to take in the Northern Lights and there’s also a Grand Asia Voyage of 119 nights in 2015. One aspect of cruising that is often of concern to GTOs and their groups is when and how much to tip. Fred. Olsen has a clear policy; there are no service charges and tipping is up to the discretion of guests. However, after feedback from guests Fred. Olsen has started to add a ‘recommended’ gratuity amount of £4.00 per passenger per day to passengers’ on board accounts. Amounts can easily be changed via reception – so that a tip reflects the service received.
Fred. Olsen exclusive ship visit If you would like to find out more why not join GTO magazine’s exclusive visit for GTOs to the Braemar at Dover on 31st July. Your visit includes a ‘Welcome Aboard’ champagne reception, followed by a presentation from the group sales team before taking a full tour of the ship, including public rooms and cabins. A delicious lunch will be served in one of the onboard restaurants, with wine, soft drinks, tea and coffee included. To reserve your place call Rebecca Bradbury on 01424 572082 or email email@example.com by 29th May 2013
Focus On luxury cruise line oceania
Formed in 2002 by luxury cruise industry veterans Frank Del Rio, Joe Watters and Bob Binder, with the first cruises setting sail in 2003, Oceania Cruises offers five star quality on all of its five ships. Regatta, Insignia, Nautica (each 684 guest capacity), Marina and Riviera (with 1250 capacity), have all been built or refurbished in the last three years to Oceania’s high quality standards.
The mid-size ships offer personalised service with two staff members for every three guests. Itineraries include 330 ports around the globe and mix must-see destinations with off-the-beaten-path ports. Multiple overnight calls afford an in-depth, enriching destination experience, and allow passengers to immerse themselves in the cuisine, culture and history of the ports visited en-route. Moreover, throughout this 10th anniversary year, special events, celebrations and offers are also available.
The ships are exquisitely finished with interiors that include walnut panelling and fabrics by top designers such as Ralph Lauren and Dakota Jackson. With up to six gourmet restaurants to choose from on each ship, dining is a central highlight of the Oceania Cruises experience and guests may dine when, where and with whom they wish. The ships also feature spa and fitness centres, as well as diverse lecture and entertainment programmes that passengers can enjoy as much or as little as they wish. At the recent cruise critics awards Oceania won seven of the eleven categories including best service, best dining, best accommodation and best value for money. To find out more about Oceania Cruises contact Steve Plummer at Cruise for Groups.
Steve offers a one-stop shop for GTOs looking to book a cruise – ensuring the group gets the best deal and taking away a lot of the paperwork associated with a booking. He works with all major cruise providers and gets discounts without needing a minimum group size. Steve is an expert at negotiating extras to add value to the cruise such as cocktail parties or overnight stays for groups who have to travel a distance to the departure port. “My role,” Steve says, “is to remove the barriers preventing groups from going on a cruise holiday and ensuring that they get impartial advice about which cruise will suit their needs best.”
Sailing through time!
2013 and 2014 sees notable anniversaries being celebrated by a number of cruise lines and ships; Val Baynton takes a look at some of these and discover what’s new for the 2014 season.
Norwegian specialist Hurtigruten was established 120 years ago when sea captain, Richard With, established a regular steam ship service to link the north and south of the country. The service offered several weekly departures, initially from Trondheim to Hammerfest, and then from Bergen to Kirkenes. Taking just seven days this was called ‘Hurtigruten’, meaning the fast route, and the name quickly became that of the young steamer company. This route is still operated daily but in addition, Hurtigruten offers many other cruise itineraries around the Norwegian fjords. This year, for the first time in two decades, the cruise line has expanded its sailing schedule by adding the Hjørundfjord, one of the most stunning fjords in Norway. Located in the Sunnmorsalp Mountains, all ships will sail into the new fjord between 1st September and 31st October. With 2013 and 14 predicted to provide exceptional opportunities to see the Northern Lights, Hurtigruten has created several itineraries to maximise chances of catching the amazing light display, with cruises ranging from a three night Arctic Highlights voyage to an 11 night Classic Round voyage. Hurtigruten has a specialist Groups Department dedicated to helping guide GTOs through the booking process and providing expert knowledge to ensure groups enjoy their cruising breaks. Group discounts apply with 10 or more full paying adults and one free place is offered for every 15 passengers booked.
It’s a double anniversary for Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2, she’s making her 200th Atlantic crossing this summer between the 6th and 13th July, and celebrating her 10th anniversary in 2014. Events will be taking place on board to commemorate both these milestones – but Queen Mary 2 still has some way to go to match the first Queen Mary, which crossed the Atlantic an incredible 1,001 times between 1936 and 1967. Itineraries for 2014 for the Queen Mary 2 and Cunard’s other liners, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, have recently been announced. The programme includes 167 ports and 13 maiden calls by the ships as well as an expanded season of Mediterranean fly-cruises, enhanced transatlantic crossings with eight-night options including calls at Halifax, the birthplace of the line’s founder, Samuel Cunard. In addition, there are cruises to the Norwegian Fjords, the Baltic and around Britain. What’s good for groups is that Cunard offers many no-fly options and there are complementary coach transfers to Southampton from across the UK. On 31st March, Costa Cruises celebrated the 65th anniversary of the sailing of their first passenger cruise ship, Anna C. The anniversary was marked with special events on board the line’s current ships, but the company has also unveiled a range of offers for forthcoming cruises. Costa has also announced a 115 day around the world cruise in 2015 – the Costa Deliziosa will call at five continents as part of the 115 day extravaganza – and the latest itineraries for the flagship Costa Fascinosa. See page 45 for more about Costa Cruises’ newest ship, Costa Diadema.
Anniversaries from 10 to 165 years
Meanwhile, Swan Hellenic celebrates its diamond anniversary in August 2014. Back in 1964, the company’s first cruise, under the direction of Ken Swan, saw 128 passengers travel by train to Venice, where they joined the ship and cruised between Venice, Piraeus and the Aegean islands. Four classical history experts travelled with the party and gave a programme of lectures, and thus began the Swan Hellenic tradition of cultural cruising. In time for the anniversary Swan Hellenic has completed a multi-million pound refurbishment of their current cruise ship Minerva, and next year she sails on Swan Hellenic’s Celebration cruise, which follows the route of the first itinerary with visits to ports in Greece including a journey along the Corinth canal. Amongst other cruises in the 2014 programme are a circumnavigation of South America, and voyages to Asia and the Baltics. Accompanying all cruises is a panel of eminent guest speakers who talk about the destinations and sites visited, they tease out the ‘what and why, the when and how, and the where and who’, helping to make cruises an enlightening, stimulating and memorable experience for all on-board.
During summer 2014, Minerva will return to her UK homeport of Portsmouth to offer seven no-fly sailings to countries including Scandinavia and Iceland. This programme includes an itinerary to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings and the centenary of the start of World War One. The 13-day ‘Reflections of France’ cruise visits Ypres and the In Flanders Fields Museum, and includes a service of remembrance on the 6th June as the ship sails off the coast of the Normandy beaches. See page 34 for more information about World War One commemorations. Swan Hellenic has a dedicated groups team that look after all groups of 10 or more throughout the whole booking process. For UK departures there is a free place for every 15 people in the party and for fly cruises, one for every 25 places. The groups’ team will hold presentations, tailored to the needs of each group, as well as visiting group leaders.
Sister ship Hebridean Princess celebrates its 25th season of cruising next year, and it, too, is recreating its first ever cruise, which sailed from Oban in May 1989. This small ship, however, – with 30 cabins and a maximum of 50 guests – is only available on a group basis to parties who are able to book the whole vessel. Another partner brand is Voyages of Discovery, whose two ships, Discovery and Voyager welcome groups on board to enjoy relaxed voyages on the medium sized ships. Programmes for 2014 for these two ships are now available.