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Viva L'España: Pullmantur Advances on the World - Azamara's Overnight Stays - A Second Cruise Ship for South Africa

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

This week we look at Spain. In the past few years, the Spanish cruise market has been one of the fastest-growing in the world and the big two, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have both now joined the play. Spanish-speaking cruises now operate not only from Spanish ports but also from Venice, Piraeus, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Lisbon, Santo Domingo, Cartagena, Acapulco and many ports in Brazil. This week the news is about where Azamara is going and the annoucement of a second ship for the South African cruise market.


Viva L'España - Pullmantur Advances on the World

With the publication of an English-language brochure Pullmantur is now making available to a wider audience its worldwide cruise itineraries on its fleet of second generation cruise ships built in the 1980s and 1990s - two by Royal Caribbean, two by Celebrity and one each by Carnival and Hapag-Lloyd.

Pullmantur's big attraction is its "AI" all inclusive program that includes not only the usual full board but also "unlimited [bottled] water, fruit juices, coffee, soft drinks, beer, wine and drinks in the bars and restaurants, disco and theatre."

The fleet is a modern one, but composed of more traditional cruise ships than the mammoth 100,000-tonners that have become popular today. Two-thirds of it has been acquired from parent company Royal Caribbean. The oldest fleet member is the Ocean Dream, built in 1982 as the Tropicale, Carnival's first newbuilding, and the others are of more recent vintage.

The Sovereign was built in 1988 as Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of the Seas, at the time the world's largest cruise ship; the Empress in 1990 as Royal Caribbean's Nordic Empress, the first newbuilding for 3- and 4-day cruises, the Pacific Dream as Celebrity Cruises' Horizon in 1990, and her sister ship Zenith, also for Celebrity in 1992.

The line's sixth ship, Bleu de France, was built as Hapag-Lloyd's last Europa in 1982 and like the present Europa, was once the top-rated cruise ship in the world. Although operated by its French subsidiary Croisiéres de France, she is also featured in Pullmantur's English-language brochure.

Since the early days of operating cruises from Barcelona with ships like the Oceanic, Pullmantur has advanced to the stage where it now operates cruises between Copenhagen and Helsinki with the Empress, from Athens with the Zenith, and from Lisbon and Malaga with the both the Zenith and the Empress, at different times of the year. The Bleu de France also sails from Marseilles for the French market. In the Caribbean, it operates the Pacific Dream from Santo Domingo and the Ocean Dream from Cartagena. In Mexico, the Pacific Dream sails from Cozumel and the Ocean Dream from Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. Its flagship, meanwhile, the 2,324-berth Sovereign, runs on the line's traditional routes from Barcelona.

In conjunction with the longer-haul cruises, Pullmantur also operates a fleet of 747s that offer a business class service on the upper deck. But here is the fleet:

Pullmantur's seventh ship, the steam turbine-powered Atlantic Star, originally Sitmar's Fairsky, remains laid up for the moment. But there has been talk that she may be placed into a new service in Europe, serving ports such as Dover, Amsterdam, Le Havre and Bilbao, with passengers able to board at any one of them for a 7-day cruise. On such a relatively short circuit, this heavy fuel burner would be much more economic and would also be able to remain in some ports overnight.

All in all, Royal Caribbean, who acquired Pullmantur as the major player in the rapidly-expanding Spanish-speaking market in 2006, has stolen a march on Carnival Corp & PLC, who quickly followed them into that market with Ibero Cruceros in 2007.

Ibero Cruceros presently has a fleet of three ships, but these are about to be joined by a fourth in the Grand Holiday, formerly Carnival's Holiday, now undergoing refurbishment in Genoa.

Ibero's ship are newer on average, but can only carry about 58% of the fleet capacity of those Pullmantur ships that are in service, which will come down to about half if the Atlantic Star is reactivated.

Nevertheless, like Pullmantur, Ibero Cruceros now bases ships in several of the same main markets, i.e. the Western Med from Spain (primarily Grand Holiday, but also Grand Mistral and Grand Voyager), the Eastern Med from Venice and Piraeus (Grand Celebration), the Atlantic and Canary Islands from Vigo and Lisbon (Grand Voyager), the Baltic and North Atlantic (Grand Mistral) and Brazil (Grand Celebration). Unlike Pullmantur, they are not in the Caribbean or on the Mexican Riviera, but this is still a much better showing for a Carnival Hispanic product after the failed Fiesta Marina project in 1993-94, which used the former Carnivale.

Meanwhile, one further Spanish line, operating mainly out of Valencia and Barcelona, as well as Venice and Athens, is a company called Happy Cruises. Formerly know as Quail Cruises, its present fleet numbers two smaller ships:

The Gemini's claim to fame is that she was actually built in Spain, by Union Naval de Levante in Valencia, while the Ocean Pearl is a first generation cruise ship, built as the Song of Norway for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Both ships are owned by the Clipper Group of Denmark and managed by International Shipping Partners of Miami.


Azamara's Overnight Stays

When Azamara Club Cruises announced that it would be adding more overnight stays so that passengers could get to explore not only the nightlife, theatres and restaurants but also the general environs of where they were, it turns out that they were quite serious. Last week, the line announced that there would be overnight stays in no fewer than 38 different ports, and, on top of that, late night (10 pm or later) departures for 63 more ports in 2011-12.

Their spring Mediterranean itineraries have been designed as a series of 7-night cruises where ports generally do not repeat, so that they can be combined into a 14- or 21-night cruise for those who want longer stay on board. Then heading for the Baltic the Azamara Journey will set sail from the nearby Paris port of Rouen, whose cathedral was the world's tallest building between 1876 and 1880 and was painted more than thirty times by Monet. Other destinations for this ship will include the West Indies, the Amazon, South America and the Antarctic.

Azamara Quest, meanwhile, will be back in the Far East, with overnight stays featured in Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. After a Far East season, and heading back to the Med, she will feature an overnight stay in Alexandria, then visits to the Greek Isles and the Black Sea. Both ships will be offering 7-night itineraries that can be combined, as well as a number of 11-night voyages. Back to the Red Sea, overnight stays will be offered at Sharm el Sheik and Safaga, as well as Aqaba, and other overnight stays are planned in ports such as Mumbai and Bali.

This week, Azamara also begins its program of complimentary vintage red and white wines chosen from boutique vineyards, bottled waters, soft drinks and specialty coffees and teas, and complimentary shuttle buses at ports where it is felt they are needed.

A Second Cruise Ship for South Africa

For many years now, Starlight Cruises of Johannesburg has been offering Italian cruise ships in the seasonal South African summer market. Ships as varied as the Achille Lauro, Rhapsody, Melody, MSC Armonia and MSC Sinfonia have served this market, usually offering a southbound liner voyage from Italy in November and a northbound voyage back to the Mediterranean in the spring.

For the 2010-11 season, however, two ships will head south, when the 1,544-berth MSC Sinfonia, which is just completing her maiden season in South Africa, will be joined by the return of the 1,064-berth MSC Melody, as she is called now. Most sailings have been from Durban and popular destinations include Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles, as well as Mozambique.

Two ships will give MSC an annual equivalent capacity for over 100,000 cruisers from both Durban, where MSC has long had an important office, and Cape Town. Starlight Cruises began with Greek and other chartered ships but now acts as general sales agent in South Africa for MSC Crociere. What is interesting about MSC in South Africa, however, is that the review sites there give the line the same mixed reports that it gets from other nationalities such as Americans and Britons.

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