Ocean Liner Days: The Real Thing
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Ocean Liner Days: The Real Thing

When the Queen Mary 2 sailed from Southampton on Friday she left behind some who had tried to book her but could not get space. Despite the fact that she has about 1,000 more berths to fill than the old Queen Elizabeth 2 and despite a world recession, the Queen Mary 2 often sails full these days.
And Cunard is not alone in being a company that has ocean liner roots that it still honours today.

Others have also found a new seasonal niche in moving their ships between cruising grounds and it is now not rare to find these voyages sold out, sometimes well in advance.
Surprisingly, a lot of tradition survives in this 21st Century market of 5,000-passenger ships. So let's look at some of the opportunities available today to and from North America, Australasia, South America and Asia.

The North Atlantic

Cunard Line has the longest North Atlantic liner tradition on Earth, dating back to the first scheduled sailing of its Britannia from Liverpool on July 4, 1840. The last century saw many famous Cunard ships ploughing the Atlantic waves - among them two Mauretanias, the Aquitania, two Caronias and three Queens, which will soon be six when the second Queen Elizabeth delivers next year. And in their traditional way, they like to call their ships ocean liners.

Today, Cunard maintains the last regular ocean liner link between Europe and North America with the Queen Mary 2's dozen scheduled voyages for each of 2009 and 2010, plus the occasional voyage by the Queen Victoria and in 2011 by the Queen Elizabeth as well, usually in connection with the January departures of their world cruises.

For several years now, since they started to add larger ships to their fleet, Fred. Olsen have been offering special voyages around Africa and around South America, as well as world cruises that can be booked by sector. This autumn, however, sees two special North Atlantic sailings to Canada. The Balmoral will leave Dover on September 26 for a 13-night passage to Montreal via the Azores, Corner Brook, Gaspe and Quebec and after two weeks cruising the east coast, she will leave Halifax on October 23 for a 12-night sail back to Dover by way of Sydney, Charlottetown, St Pierre, St John's and Cobh.

Two more Canadian sailings are being offered by Costa and Peter Deilmann. The Costa Atlantica will leave Savona on September 16 for Quebec City, a 17-night voyage via Barcelona, Lisbon, the Azores, New York, Boston and Charlottetown. And Deilmann's classic Deutschland leaves Hamburg September 22 for a 12-night sailing to Montreal by way of Falmouth, Ireland, Newfoundland, St Pierre and the Saguenay Fjord.

Other than the Queen Mary 2, which offers a full Transatlantic schedule, other operators tend to offer very seasonal fare, that is, from America to Europe in spring and back from Europe to America and the Caribbean by autumn. This year, there will be three sailings from Europe to New York or Boston in August, two of these by old-time liner operator Holland America Line; six in September to New York, Boston or Fort Lauderdale, two of which will be offered by Princess Cruises; seven in October, two of which again are by Holland America; a dozen sailings in November, two each by Celebrity and Royal Caribbean and one by Holland America; and three stragglers in December by Azamara, Fred. Olsen and MSC.

One crossing that has attracted much repeat business each autumn is Oceania Cruises, with its smaller 684-berth ships, but the biggest ship crossing will be Royal Caribbean's 3,600-berth Independence of the Seas, a 13-night crossing leaving Southampton on November 23 for Fort Lauderdale. One line that we have mentioned, Holland America Line, founded in 1872, was among the original North Atlantic operators and even tried to take ownership of the words "ocean liner" for a while until they wisely allowed Cunard to take the role of operating the real ocean liners within the Carnival group.

Other than the US sailings, several ships also terminate in Caribbean ports. And the same fleet will all be headed back to Europe next spring, with the exception of new ships such as the Carnival Dream and Celebrity Equinox, which will be making delivery voyages to their new cruising grounds after a few introductory cruises in Europe.

For people who need more flexibility, there are also year round cargo ship voyages that carry a few passengers. One of these, on the Independent Container Line route between Antwerp, Liverpool and Philadelphia, even offers weekly sailings. And although they only carry passengers between April and November, year-round sailings are still available to and from the Mediterranean.

Europe To the West Coast

An interesting departure for North America's west coast is Cunard Line's departure of the Queen Victoria, which leaves Southampton on January 4, 2010, for San Francisco by way of New York, Fort Lauderdale and Acapulco, to arrive 24 nights later. And another ship, the Arcadia, that was originally intended to have been completed as Queen Victoria too, but then switched to P&O, leaves Southampton on January 10, to arrive in San Francisco 22 nights later, sailing by way of Madeira, Barbados and Acapulco.

Australia and New Zealand

P&O, which actually got its start a couple of years before Cunard, eventually developed into a line best known for its services to and from Australia and New Zealand and India and the Far East. People who remember names such as Orion, Oronsay, Viceroy of India, Arcadia and Canberra can still today book liner voyages with P&O by booking a particular sector of their annual world cruises.

The Aurora leaves Southampton, for example, on January 5, 2010, offering a 55-night voyage through Suez to Brisbane, 57 nights to Sydney, 60 nights to Melbourne or 66 nights to Fremantle, while the Arcadia leaves Southampton on January 10 and offers a 38-night voyage via the Panama to Auckland, 45 nights to Sydney or 47 nights to Brisbane.

On the way back to Southampton, the Arcadia leaves Auckland on February 15 (59 nights), Sydney on February 22 (52 nights) and Brisbane on February 24 (50 nights), returning via Suez. The Aurora, meanwhile, leaves Brisbane on February 26 (52 nights), Sydney on February 28 (50 nights), Melbourne on March 3 (47 nights) and Fremantle on March 9 (41 nights), returning to Southampton via the Cape of Good Hope.

Returning from Sydney, the Queen Victoria sails on February 18 for a grand 63-night voyage back to Southampton. The same voyage is available from Auckland in 70 days, while Fremantle to Southampton takes 55 days via Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai.

For Americans too, there are opportunities. The same Queen Victoria that arrives in San Francisco on January 26 offers a 25-night sailing to Sydney via Honolulu, Fiji and New Zealand. And the Arcadia that arrives in San Francisco on February 1 offers a 16-night sailing to Auckland, New Zealand via Honolulu and Christmas Island, or a 22-night sailing that finishes in Sydney.

Another regular operator to and from Australia is Classic International, first with the Funchal, but now with the Athena, offering an annual autumn departure from Athens for Fremantle and a March return voyage that can be booked as liner voyages. This year the Athena leaves Athens' port of Piraeus on November 14 for a 34-night voyage to Fremantle through Turkey, Cyprus and Suez via Colombo and Singapore. After a season of Australia-based cruises, she will then leave Fremantle on March 14 for a reverse voyage that finishes 35 nights later in Nice. Fares compare very well with P&O and Cunard.

A longer passage, offered by Cunard Line, is the Queen Mary 2, leaving Southampton on January 11 for a 57-night voyage to Sydney via the Med, Suez, Singapore, Hong Kong, three ports in Japan and two in New Zealand. Equally, Southampton to Auckland is 53 nights. Coming the other way, Queen Mary 2 leaves Auckland March 2 for a 51-night passage back to Southampton by way of the Far East, Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope, and leaves Sydney on March 6 for a 47-night trip back to the UK.

The Queen Victoria will be sailing the other way, leaving Southampton on January 4 for a 47-night voyage to Australia via New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and New Zealand, or a 55-night passage to Fremantle. Those wishing to disembark in Auckland may also do so after 40 nights. And Americans may sail from San Francisco, which she leaves on January 26, for Sydney in 40 nights.

South America

Certain South American countries boast a large Italian population that can be traced back to the era of ocean liners, especially SpA "Italia," as it was known, and then Costa. Italian liner companies always considered their South American connections to be almost as important as their North American ones and this holds true right up until today. Every year, Costa and MSC Cruises send several ships to Brazil and Argentina for the winter (nine this year) and in the process offer a seasonal liner service, out from Europe in the autumn and back in the spring.

MSC will offer half a dozen outbound South American sailings this autumn, with two returning to the UK in the spring. First, on October 5, 2009, the MSC Lirica leaves Genoa for Santos, Brazil, via Madeira, the Canaries and ports in Brazil, a voyage of 18 nights. On March 12, 2010, she will return from Santos via a similar route, returning to Genoa on March 29. MSC Melody, meanwhile, leaves Genoa for Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, on October 23 (a short 14-night voyage) and returns from Bahia on March 13, 2010, another quick 14-night trip back to Genoa.

And on November 2, the MSC Musica leaves Venice for Santos via Madeira and ports in Brazil, another 18-night voyage. On March 17, 2010, she will return from Santos via a similar route, arriving at Venice on April 4. The MSC Armonia, meanwhile, leaves Venice for Buenos Aires on November 15 (21 nights) and leaves Buenos Aires for Venice on April 29, 2010 (also 21 nights). These are the four sailings that will return to Italy next spring, but two more MSC ships will also leave Italy, but return to Dover next spring.

South America to UK Sailings

New this year, two MSC ships will return from Brazil to the UK next spring. On October 26, 2009, MSC Opera leaves Venice for a 17-night voyage to Rio de Janeiro via the Canaries and ports in Brazil. And on May 3 2010, she returns from Santos via a similar route, but this time in 18 nights to Dover, thus offering British passengers a direct sailing from South America. And on December 1, 2009, the MSC Orchestra leaves Genoa for Santos via Madeira, the Canaries and Brazilian ports, a voyage of 17 nights. On April 20, 2010, she will return from Santos via a similar route, also to Dover, offering British passengers a second direct sailing from South America, this one in 16 nights. Return dates in April and May will also allow more flexibility to those planning to travel from Brazil to the UK next spring.

Where MSC have half a dozen ships headed for South America, Costa will be sending three. The Costa Magica will make an 18-night crossing from Savona to Santos on November 18 and Costa Concordia will perform a similar voyage just four days later, on November 22. Then the Costa Victoria will depart Savona on December 3 for a 19-night voyage to Buenos Aires, her base for the winter. And like the MSC ships, all three will return to Italy next spring.

Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, will be sending Splendour of the Seas and Vision of the Seas to Brazil, both from Lisbon, while Oceania will offer the Insignia from Barcelona, for three more South America sailings this autumn, producing a total of a dozen crossings this autumn.

For those who don't live like lemmings, however, and can't cope with such seasonality, Grimaldi Lines offer a sailing every 10 days between Tilbury and Buenos Aires in 12-passenger cargo ships that also call in Brazil. This has been so successful that passenger accommodation on their Buenos Aires ships is now sold out many months ahead of sailing.

Far East and India

The Viceroy of India we mentioned was a well-known P&O ship, but outbound Britons can now join P&O's Aurora at Southampton on January 5 for a 21-night voyage to Mumbai, or 27 nights to Singapore or 35 nights to Hong Kong. They could also catch Cunard's Queen Mary 2 on January 11 for a 27-night voyage to Singapore or 34 nights to Hong Kong. And for those who wish to leave earlier, Voyages of Discovery offers a November 28 sailing from Barcelona to Mumbai (24 days), Singapore (39 days) or Hong Kong (65 days) in the Discovery.

For Americans, the February 1 departure of Arcadia from San Francisco offers a 38-night sailing to Hong Kong with stops in Sydney, Cairns and Kota Kinabalu, shades of both the old Matson and American President Lines.

For those wishing to sail back to the UK from the Far East, Cunard's Queen Victoria leaves Hong Kong on March 9 for a 44-night passage to Southampton, or Singapore on March 23 for a 30-night voyage. Also from Hong Kong, on March 12, Britons can catch Arcadia home to Southampton in 34 nights via Bangkok, Singapore, Mumbai and Athens. The same voyage also offers a 20-night opportunity from Mumbai to Southampton, leaving on March 29. Equally, the Aurora offers a March 17 sailing from Singapore to Southampton, taking 33 nights by way of the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope.

South Africa

There was a time when voyages to and from South Africa were more common, but for the moment, there are only a few opportunities. MSC offers one Durban sailing this autumn. On November 24, 2009, the MSC Sinfonia leaves Leghorn for Durban via Naples, Suez, the Seychelles and Madagascar, a voyage of 20 nights. She then returns on April 1, 2010, from Durban, on a 21-night passage back Leghorn via Mauritius, the Seychelles, Suez and Naples again, one of the few liner offerings to South Africa these days other than a twice-monthly cargo-passenger service between Antwerp and Cape Town and two UK sailings a year by the mail ship St Helena.

Although South African opportunities have been less frequent recently, the activities of pirates off Somalia have convinced some operators to avoid the Suez Canal on some future voyages, and we are likely to see more such opportunities in 2011. One such opportunity is now being offered in P&O's Aurora on April 4, 2010, when she leaves Cape Town for Southampton on what will be a 15-night voyage via Walvis Bay, St Helena and Madeira.

So not every ship in the cruise world goes round and round the same five or six ports every seven days. Lots sail the world and if you pay attention there are plenty of opportunties to be had to cross the ocean like our ancestors and parents did, enjoying the voyage for what it is with many days at sea rather than the mad whirlwind of a port a day. It does take a little more planning now; you can't call your travel agent and say "book me on the next boat to Sydney, Lou," as the opportunites come and go. But it's worth the extra work if you can do it.

(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)

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