New ships and new ideas. This month is seeing a rapid series of new cruise ship introductions, all in the UK
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New ships and new ideas. This month is seeing a rapid series of new cruise ship introductions, all in the UK

Starting with MSC Cruises' MSC Poesia, christened by Oscar-winner Sophia Loren at Dover on 5th April, P&O Cruises' Ventura was named by fellow Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren at Southampton last week, and Royal Caribbean's new Independence of the Seas will be named next week in Southampton by Elizabeth Hill, founder of a charity that helps young people who have failed in school. That's a new ship every ten days during April.

MSC Poesia
The 92,400-ton MSC Poesia is the third of MSC's "Musica" class, and despite a rather boxy exterior she received favourable reviews from her British visitors as "beautiful, elegant and stylish" internally. The Zebra Bar drew favourable comments, as did her tasteful fittings and the refined use of black and green marble. Dover was chosen for the official naming of this "European" ship in order to attract the attention of the British public as MSC have been operating UK-based cruises for a couple of years now (unlike Costa, who leave this market to stable mates P&O, Cunard, Princess and Holland America).
Entertainment on the night was provided by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and UK rock star K T Tunstall while also on board were Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Dover being Kent's official cruise port. As her official naming ceremony did not occur until midnight, there were some complaints from the press, who had to be in Southampton at 0700 the next morning so that P&O could take them out in a special boat to greet their new Ventura, on her delivery voyage from her builders in Italy.

Last Thursday, it was the turn of the 116,000-ton Ventura, the "Superliner designed for Britain," with the ceremony featuring everything from a James Bond-style film to two Royal Marines abseiling down the side of the ship to break two bottles of champagne when she was named by Dame Helen Mirren, who played Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 movie "The Queen."
The new P&O ship garnered reviews that ranged from "fabulous food" to "it's mostly pastels" and "chic and understated." It must be said however, that although the Ventura was built for P&O, she is actually the seventh of the "Grand Princess" type and in the same week that P&O christened her, the UK trade press was carrying photos of look-alike Grand Princess (who could mistake the "platypus bows" on these two ships?) advertising new Mediterranean sailings from Southampton in 2009.
As the Grand Princess was introduced in 1997, Ventura's basic design is now eleven years old. P&O may call her a "Superliner," but by the time all present cruise ship orders are delivered there will be 72 cruise ships longer than Ventura, although she will number among the fifty above 100,000 tons.

Surprisingly, with 3,100 lower berths, Ventura is actually thirteen feet shorter than MSC Poesia, with 2,550 ?but the Italian ship can pass through the Panama Canal while the British one is twelve feet wider ?she is the first British post-Panamax cruise ship since Queen Mary 2 (christened in 2003 by the real Queen Elizabeth II), at least until they enlarge the Panama Canal.
Many other UK stars were on board Ventura, including Rowan Atkinson, better known to many as "Mr Bean," but other than the marines, the entertainment was provided by look-alikes of Elton John, Kylie Minogue and Robbie Williams. At the charity auction, celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, who has a restaurant on board called "The White Room," donated a table for four on ITV's "Hell's Kitchen" television program in 2009. And for the kiddies, as with Mickey Mouse on the Disney ships, there's a life-size manned imitation of the British child icon Noddy.

P&O are casting this ship, along with their ex-Princess Oceana, as ships for first-timers and families, something that is reflected in the fact that 49% of those booking Ventura are new to P&O. One comment was made on Ventura's alternate restaurant supplements ?at £20 ($40) per person on 7-night cruises and £15 ($30) on longer ones in "East" and £25 ($50) and £20 ($40) respectively in "The White Room," they are very pricy.
In terms of size, however, at 3,100 lower berths, Ventura can carry 55% more guests than the last cruise ship built for the British market, P&O's 82,500-ton 1,996-berth Arcadia, delivered in 2005, so those alternate restaurants should be full.

Central Park at Sea
While Independence of the Seas, the third in Royal Caribbean's "Freedom" series, won't be christened until next week, some onlookers question whether Royal Caribbean purposely chose the day before Ventura's christening to unveil its new "Central Park" scheme for the next generation of 220,000-ton "Genesis" class ships, due in 2009 and 2010, to take some of the limelight away from P&O. This is a new concept of an "open air park" on the top decks, exposed to the open sky, with six decks of balconies around it. An innovative way of taking advantage of the ships' 154-foot beam, in effect it allows Royal Caribbean to turn what would otherwise have been inside cabins into outside balcony cabins, albeit with a view into an internal courtyard. Although they will have no sea view, they will at least offer an opening to the outside light and air.

Calling the area a park, however, especially "Central Park," is an exaggeration, as the artist's concepts show an area that more closely resembles a housing estate or a hotel courtyard, and despite its ingenuity there have already been comments on the lack of a sea view and some jovial talk about clothes lines strung between balconies. One wonders how much this concept, which will also have trees, is related to Celebrity's recent announcement that its new 122,000-ton Celebrity Solstice, due into service later this year, will have lawns on her top decks.
The "Central Park" area of the "Genesis" ships will feature a choice of seven restaurants and bars surrounding it, as well as boutiques and an art gallery, although what this will do for noise levels for the surrounding balcony cabins is not yet known. Some 334 staterooms, including 254 with balconies, will mean that at double occupancy, 668 passengers of the 5,400 on board will have internal views onto this area.

Independence of the Seas
As for Independence of the Seas, she was delivered to her owners at Turku in Finland last week and, at 154,000-tons, she will be the largest cruise ship in the world, at least until the arrival of the first of the first new "Genesis" ship, now under construction. With 3,600 lower berths, or 500 more than Ventura, in her summer season alone Independence of the Seas will be able to take 60,000 cruisers out of Southampton on her own. That is close to the total number of cruisers who sailed in all ships from all UK ports in 1991 and 1992.
Equipped with "FloRider" equipment for surfing, an ice skating rink and a rock climbing wall with eleven climbing routes, she is a sister ship of the Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, already in service, and will be the largest cruise ship ever based in Europe, at least in terms of tonnage (the 151,400-ton Queen Mary 2 is still the longest at 1,132 feet to Independence of the Seas' 1,112 feet).

The UK Market
There is no doubt that the UK market is attracting a lot of attention this month with these three commissionings in UK ports, but Holland America's new Eurodam will also call in Southampton for a viewing in late June en route from her Italian builders to her 1st July christening in Rotterdam by Queen Beatrix. Do we count that as two Queens and two Oscar-winners among these four ships then?

But while the UK market grew by 11%% in 2007, Spain grew by 24% and Italy by 32%. In fact, the European market overall attracted 575,000 more cruisers last year, an increase of 17.5%, compared to just 500,000 in the much larger North American market, where growth was just 4%. It's easy to see where the future lies in cruising.

Note: Passenger space ratio is tons per passenger

(Source: By Mark Tré -

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