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A "Four Queens" Cruise - Costa's World Cruise - How Not to Charter a Ship - Ten Years of Europa

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

This week we find an interesting cruise that will include four Cunard Queens. An Alberta cruise ship charterer will be out approximately $15 million after cancelling a Winter Olympics charter on the Norwegian Star. Costa rejoins the ranks of those operating world cruises with its new Costa Deliziosa, delivered today in Venice.
And this week's special topic is ten years of excellence for Hapag-Lloyd's Europa, top-rated ship in the world.


Four Queens in One Cruise

Reader Offers Ltd, a travel agent retailer that sells exclusively through national newspapers in the UK, has put together an interesting cruise for 2011 that incorporates (but does not include) all four Queens - the new Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2, the original Queen Mary in Long Beach and the Queen Victoria. Customers will fly to New York, spend two nights in the Waldorf-Astoria, sail in the new Queen Elizabeth from New York to Los Angeles, spend a night in the original Queen Mary in Long Beach and then sail in the Queen Victoria from Los Angeles to the Hawaiian Islands and Ensenada, Mexico, before returning home.

There is a little cheating in this plan, however, as the Queen Mary 2 is only involved as part of the first meeting of Cunard's present three Queens, planned for New York, so, while Reader Offers say guests will "witness" the Queen Mary 2 in New York, it is unlikely they will actually get to go on board. An interesting attraction however is that Reader Offers has been able to set up a cocktail party on board the original Queen Mary in Long Beach with Commodore Ron Warwick, retired former commander of the Queens, before setting off in the Queen Victoria for Hawaii and Mexico.

The Queen Victoria will be based on the US West Coast in the winter of 2011, marking the first time that Cunard has based a ship there for several years. During the Second World War, the Aquitania did some emergency trooping between the US West Coast and Hawaii after Pearl Harbor, and a number of Cunard ships have operated from West Coast ports to Alaska and other destinations in the past.

Costa Deliziosa's World Cruise

In an interesting twist this week, Costa Crociere has announced that it is going back into the world cruise business, an area from which it has been absent for many years. The 2,860-berth Costa Deliziosa has been scheduled for a 99-day circumnavigation to leave Savona on December 28, 2011. This will also be a first for Savona, which has become Costa's main Italian cruise port. Although Costa is headquartered in Genoa, it owns the cruise terminal in nearby Savona.

The world cruise will be divided into three sectors: from Savona to Los Angeles via the Caribbean and the Panama Canal; from Los Angeles to Singapore via Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia; and from Singapore to Savona via Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, the Red Sea and Egypt.

The Costa Deliziosa was delivered to Costa Cruises just this morning at the Venice Passenger Terminal and will sail to Dubai, for her official naming on February 23, the first cruise ship to be christened in an Arabian city. This winter, the Costa Deliziosa and her 2009-delivered sister ship Costa Luminosa will both be based on Dubai, where Costa has been making huge inroads in recent years, with 140,000 passenger movements this winter (remember that embarking is one movement and disembarking is another).

The Deliziosa and the Luminosa are Costa's "top of the range" ships, setting them apart from the rest of the fleet, and the fact that the latest ship has been chosen to revive Costa's world cruise program would seem to confirm this. The new ships' modern design and use of premium materials such as marble and granite, stucco applied by spatula using the technique known as "spatolato veneziano" and other decorative flourishes including "parchment scroll" lamé, Murano glass, refined Zebrano wood and Wenge timber, stylish polished and glazed steel, and 970 La Murrina chandeliers, confirm this as well. Costa has not made a world cruise since pre-Carnival days, when it used the Danae or Daphne as its world cruisers in the late 1980s.

How Not to Charter a Cruise Ship

In a move that will very probably cost Newwest Special Projects, a division of Newwest Travel of Edmonton, Alberta, about $15 million, while costing Norwegian Cruise Line nothing, Newwest has cancelled a Winter Olympics charter on the Norwegian Star that was to have run from February 6 to March 6, including positioning cruises from Los Angeles to Vancouver before and Vancouver to Los Angeles after her planned use as an 1,100-room hotel ship in North Vancouver for the duration of the Winter Olympics.

Last Monday, just five days before the ship was due to leave Los Angeles for Vancouver, Newwest announced that it was cancelling the charter and would do all it could to rebook customers who were left without Olympic accommodations. Reportedly, room prices had dropped from $1,400 per night to $700 per night to as little as $275 a night in an attempt to book the ship, part of the cost cutting achieved by stripping out some of the cruise product such as meals and entertainment, but to no avail. As well, the ship was originally to have been berthed at a quasi-metropolitan dock at the foot of Lonsdale Street in North Vancouver but later reports put her be at the Kinder Morgan Sulphur Dock. In either case International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) would have meant an extra cost, how much depending on the facility.

It is now understood that NCL will take advantage of the cancellation of the charter to send the Norwegian Star for a routine drydocking in Victoria BC from February 14 to 28, a period that has kindly been paid for by Newwest, and will give NCL the ability to sell a few more cruises later when it had been intended to drydock her.

Under the terms of a similar cruise ship charter party used by a Carnival group company, Newwest would have had to place a deposit of about 10 per cent on confirming the charter and make two stage payments of 20% each with final balance of 50% payable one month before delivery. It would also have been required to pay for all port charges and fuel, plus a service charge of about $10 dollars per passenger per day. The fact that the ship's crew were all required to obtain Canadian visas for the intended period in Vancouver was also said to have presented an extra cost of about $200,000. Some of these latter costs may be saved but the multi-million dollar charter fee will be forfeit.

In a statement made by Newwest before the cancellation of the charter, "Our sales have not been what we had hoped for and our expenses have increased beyond what we ever expected." We suppose that $1,400 per room per night was too much to expect, even for the Olympics. As The Cruise Examiner said on January 11, "such hotel ship charters seem to be a complicated and risky business, for everyone that is except the cruise lines, for whom it seems most lucrative."


Ten Years of Excellence with the Europa

For the tenth year in a row, Douglas Ward, in the 2010 edition of the "Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships" has given Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' 28,890-ton 408-guest Europa top marks and awarded her the only five-stars-plus rating in the guide. And for several years now, Hapag-Lloyd has been greeting English-speaking passengers on its ships with a number of special "bilingual" cruises that are sold in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand (all the crew must speak English anyway, but menus, daily programs, newspapers and other literature are available in English on these bilingual cruises).

But one problem the Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd is trying to confront is how to address the initial uncertainty or doubt that intending passengers may have about a product they are not familiar with. How much easier it must be to book with someone like a Regent or a Seabourn which your friends have travelled on or that is written up frequently in the Englsih-language consumer media, with numerous press items and reviews available on line. So one might well may ask "Why should I cruise with Hapag-Lloyd?"

This article will try to address some of those points and the very first that comes to mind is quality, including some of the most exquisite service available at sea. The Europa has achieved its score of 1,851 points out of a possible 2,000 (92.6%) for a reason so let's see why. The first thing to note is that Ward awards 472 points out of a possible 500 (95.2%) to the ship itself, her highest score in any category. Next, pretty well level pegging at 372 and 371 our of 400 (93%) come the cruise and the food. On the ship itself, Ward calls her "one of the world's most spacious purpose-built cruise ships, an exquisite retreat," pointing out things such as the fact that all towels, and even doilies, are of cloth and paper is used nowhere, real flowers abound throughout and drinks by the pool are served in real glasses, not plastic.

He goes on to point out that in suite movies on Europa are free (while "all-inclusive" Silversea charges), the ship carries more than 5,000 different food ingredients so that menus are not repeated, afternoon tea includes a choice of 30 loose teas, not tea bags, and each passenger is assigned a free email address with their tickets (charges apply to images and attachments). Ward's ultimate conclusion is that what wins the Europa her top spot is "detail, detail, detail," or as he puts it "the little details that most other cruise lines have long left behind in the age of discounts."

While the Europa does charge for wines and spirits, this is done at real duty-free prices and not as on other lines at hotel prices (where the line makes a whopping profit). Ward points out that "they are not included for the simple reason that ships that include drinks typically have a much more limited selection, including young table wines that may not be to all tastes." And the beer, soft drinks, water and juices that are stocked in your fridge, and the full bar in the higher level suites, are free. Meanwhile, shore excursions, another area now regarded by most cruise lines as a separate profit centre, with typically a 100% markup, are value for money on Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

The Europa on board is a delight, lounges with tall ceilings, an elegant seven-deck high atrium, she is more grand hotel than resort, and both the main restaurant (the Europa restaurant) and show lounge (the Europa Lounge) seat the full compliment of passengers. In addition to the main restaurant there is alternate dining at no extra charge in the Oriental, with hand-made Meissen porcelain carrying a flying fish pattern from a 1904 Hapag ship, and the Venezia, with fine Rosenthal china and excellent Italian fare. At the stern, the Lido Café gives onto the open deck. And above the Lido there is the wonderful Sansibar, a bar that also opens onto the stern

In addition to the Europa, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises operates the top-rated expedition ships Hanseatic and Bremen, cruising in polar and wilderness regions, and the 420-berth Columbus, which will be sailing back into the Great Lakes again in 2011. For those wondering why they should book Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, they can be booked in North America through Euro Lloyd Travel in New York or Air Travel Marketing Services in Miami or Los Angeles, in the UK through The Cruise People Ltd in London or in Australia through Landmark Travel in Sydney.

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