Tag Archives: Cruises

Eye Openers in Guernsey

Having visited Guernsey’s St. Peter Port several times on cruise ship calls and loving it (it’s definitely on the list for a more in-depth, non-cruise-related holiday in future), I looked forward to yesterday’s call there on Westerdam. But this time I got a chance to learn about the island without actually setting foot off the ship!

This time, a bit of Guernsey came to Westerdam.

We had reached out to local journalists Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio, with an invitation to come onboard the ship for lunch, a tour, and good conversation. The afternoon delivered on all three counts.

From left to right, Mark Windsor and Nicci Martel from the Guernsey Press and Star, and Claire Brouard, from Island FM radio

Some interesting tidbits:

*First, the complicated stuff and I only include this info because Mark tells me that Brits often don’t really get what Guernsey is all about:  Guernsey is one of England’s Channel Islands and a British Crown Dependency. Sark, Isle of Man and Jersey are among others. They’re not part of the U.K. – they’re a separate possession of the Crown.

*Remember “Bergerac”? The popular 1980s cop show was actually based in Jersey but gave the Channel Islands a big jolt as a tourist destination at the time. The basic gist of the series was, according to Wikipedia, “the blend of holiday locations, the island’s tax exile millionaire populace and, of course, some unsavoury criminals.” Our Guernsey journalists were stunned to learn from my Finnish husband that the show was such a huge hit in Finland that charter air and package tours were created to ferry Finns to the Channel Islands.

*Did you know that Guernsey’s big “crop” is money? It’s a banking mecca on the scale of Bermuda and the Caymans. The next big industry is tourism; horticulture’s on the wane but islanders do grow tomatoes and flowers (I’m told the gorgeously scented freesia is the most common flower)

*There was a spirited debate about Guernsey’s awareness among travelers. My husband, Teijo Niemela, who’s editor of Cruise Business Review (www.cruisebusiness.com), a cruise industry business to business magazine, and who joined us for lunch, really peppered the trio with questions about why the Channel Islands doesn’t market itself more aggressively to cruise lines.

*It’s almost as expensive to live here as it is in London! Claire, who’s shopping for a home, regaled us with tales of too-small, garden-less condos here that were more expensive than detached homes with big backyards in other parts of England. Island living is definitely London-esque, real estate-wise.

Shopping

*Speaking of shopping, one of the big selling points for Guernsey when it comes to cruise visitors is its variety and quality as a shopping destination (and its light tax position). It has a nice blend of high street chains and unique-to-Guernsey boutiques. But it’s a controversial issue. The Guernsey Press and Star (http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2010/07/19/the-high-streets-ship-fails-to-come-in/#ixzz0vd9SEZRH) reported recently that on a day with two ships (and 4,000 passengers) in port, the High Street was deserted; cruise shoppers did not materialize. On our visit, I noticed that many, many passengers returning onboard from their day ashore were carrying shopping bags (certainly saw more of these than on our Portland/Weymouth call).

Westerdam's Crow's Nest

On their part, neither Claire, Nicci or Mark had ever been on a cruise ship before and it was illuminating to see what caught their attention. One great comment from Claire on the pool deck, looking back towards the island: I’ve never seen Guernsey from this vantage point before! Other hits onboard for these first time cruisers included Holland America Line’s Explorations Café (the coffee bar/library/card room/Crow’s Nest bar), the lavish theater (easily as big as anything we have on Guernsey, Claire noted), and a tour of our cabin, a standard balcony that was roomier than they expected.

The weather, which was gloomy, spitting rain throughout the day, was definitely  more conducive to staying cozy and dry onboard! Ironically, just as Westerdam began to raise its tenders in preparation to heading back out to sea, the skies cleared and the sun shone brightly. Alas, it was too late to do passengers any good.

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Epic’s Deluxe Balcony AKA the Mini-Suite

“This is like the perfect London flat. Everything has a place.”

Carmen Roberts, BBC World’s “Fast Track”

It feels more like a yacht cabin than any other big-ship stateroom, with full walls occupied by built-in cabinets and small touches, from perfectly placed hooks to hidden but accessible electric outlets (both European and US).

I’m going to go against the grain here and say that for all its quirks — and this is the quirkiest modern stateroom design I’ve ever seen! — I really love my cabin. It’s not going to be for everyone (and we’ve not even gotten to the wacky bathroom analysis yet!). What’s important to figure out is whether this style is for you.

In this deluxe balcony (in human-speak it’s called a mini-suite) the walls indeed gently undulate. It’s very narrow and smaller than average, by industry standards, as NCL’s cabins typically are. The mini-suite is roughly two-thirds the size of a mini-suite on Princess’ Grand class (Princess’ are especially generous).

First the basics: All cabins come with flat-screen television, interactive system (with movies, shore excursions and the like), a coffee pot (bring your own teabags), a desk with chair, hairdryer (decent power) and beds that convert from twins to a queen. The duvet is a nice crisp cotton, as are the sheets. Beside each bed is a nice built-in shelf unit with a little bedside light. And all cabins have a sofa bed/loveseat.

Like all ships’ standard cabins these days, those on Epic are built in a cabin factory, are identical within each category, and are trucked to the ship and essentially slotted into place. They interlock with the cabins on either side like a set of Legos. That’s a challenge for these curving walls.

The biggest controversy about these cabins is the fact that the bathrooms (shower and toilet) are in separate compartments, and we’ve already addressed this to some extent (the issue is by no means over!).

Enough of that, let’s move on to pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The bed — and this is fantastic and cozy — is set into the curved wall. It gives you the sort of feeling of nestling in your mother’s arms.
  • The lighting … finally a cruise line has softened the lights (it’s not dark, just softer), though I still think dimmer lighting would be a revolutionary step!
  • Overall ambience is lovely. The color scheme is much, much softer than that on NCL’s Jewel-class ships — here we have earth colors with pretty, dark wood veneer cabins. There are lots of mirrors, both floor-length and otherwise.
  • A curved curtain has been installed between the bathroom/foyer and the cabin itself. It looks like a last-minute addition (and the curtain’s kind of cheap looking), but it does the job — which is to give privacy between the two areas.
  • The bed is flanked by built-in shelves (for eyeglasses, cell phone, book) and has accordion-neck book lights.
  • The bed’s marvelous. Could stay there all day.
  • Nice hairdryer, decent voltage
  • I always love a mini-fridge — don’t always use it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Cons:

  • This is a pro and a con! The cabin is definitely narrow. I didn’t feel it because of the placement of the mirrors and the curved bed (it’s harder to walk around your bed on Silversea’s Silver Spirit than in here); the mirrors help a lot, and so does the built-in cabinetry all along the walls.
  • I’m not going to be the first to say that the couch/loveseat (which folds out to a bed) is awful (attractive but of no use), but it is. Because of the cabin’s configuration, it was designed to wrap around the curve that bulges into the room. It’s not comfortable (very hard back) and you sit sort of twisted. At this point it’s become a storage facility for my stuff. I can’t sit there.

Next post: I’ll tackle storage. It’s pretty creatively designed.

CSB

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Balcony fun

On today’s home page poll on Cruise Critic UK, we earnestly ask what you like to do best on your balcony (keep it clean!). So far, reading a book is getting the grand share of votes, though 18 percent like the “get romantic” option. Dining al fresco gets a small nod, at 7 percent, but I think that’s more because most cruise lines don’t really go to any trouble to make a meal on the balcony an option (Princess Cruises does an amazing job with its balcony brunches and dinners, and Celebrity at least outfits some balconies with real tables rather than those the size of postage stamp).

I frankly thought that our poll over on Cruisecritic.com, our U.S.-based site, was a tad sharper. (We were a bit obsessed about balconies yesterday!). There, the query was: What’s the most annoying thing people do on balconies? Far and away, people who smoke are the biggest irritants (and as I write this inside my cabin, with balcony door open, my next door neighbor is puffing away. I can smell it in here).

What’s your biggest pet peeve about balcony etiquette or lack thereof? Feel free to post it here — or go to Cruisecritic.com and vote!

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Dine With Nick Stars!

This morning I had one of the most lively breakfasts of my life. The location: The colourful Spiegel Tent on Norwegian Epic. The event: A character breakfast with the stars of Nickelodeon.

Now, since this isn’t a revenue cruise – and  the ship is mostly full of weary travel agents who may have had one too many glasses of Champagne last night – the atmosphere was perhaps not quite as electric as it would be on a regular cruise when families will be flocking into this eatery.

However, we got into the spirit of things, and as our cooked breakfast came out (sausage, eggs, bacon, pancakes),  so did the stars of the kids TV programmes.

SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron (who posed for a picture with me!) and pals paraded on stage and sang their rendition of “Celebration” – that certainly woke us up!

There were a couple of children in the restaurant and when we were all given the chance to meet the characters, you could see the excitement on their faces. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of fully grown adults standing in line to have their photos taken with the stars!

It’s a great addition for NCL, and if you’re planning to sail with your kids, definitely try to check it out – it’s on three times a cruise and you can book in the Box Office. For children aged 4-12 the cost is $10 per child; ages 13 and upwards, the fee is $15 per person.

KR

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Norwegian Epic’s trials: Are they over?

In a news piece yesterday, Cruise Critic’s Dan Askin writes about the varied and many trials and tribulations that Norwegian Epic’s experienced in its short life as a ship. The latest — the malfunctioning propeller that altered some preview cruises here in Europe and in England — is clearly on the minds of many and we’re working on a news item about that.

The ship arrived in Southampton late yesterday as you all know. For the expected next cruise, a two nighter to nowhere, which we’re on now, Epic’s stayed tied up at the dock. But good news! We’ve just learned that we’ll take to the high seas at 1 p.m. for a one night cruise to nowhere!

One of privileges of being able to experience a ship on a pre-inaugural basis is that you get to see it while it’s brand spanking new. One of the challenges is that all new ships come with kinks and they need to be worked out. Some require passengers onboard to help in discovering kinks. Others are mechanical. That’s the way it works. What I’m seeing now onboard is that everything is really coming together beautifully. As long as NCL gets the mechanical problem sorted, I think the lucky, lucky folks who are on the Atlantic crossing, which departs tomorrow night, are going to have a grand time.

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Norwegian Epic’s just arrived in Southampton!

It’s a very pretty cruise into Southampton and the ship got a nice welcome from the folks at Carnival UK, who took to the rooftop to cheer on the ship (not sure you’ll be able to tell from photo).  Fred. Olsen’s pretty Black Watch is tied up alongside — talk about David vs. Goliath, sizewise. It looks tiny next to Epic. Alas, vista of piles of garbage on a dock that I’m looking at right now — and smelling — isn’t too nice; god help us if we dock right next to it.

CSB

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Norwegian Epic Cabin Analysis: The Balcony

Since we’re getting such great feedback (and questions) regarding Norwegian Epic’s new-style, curving cabins, I thought I’d let you know what I’m seeing here after three days onboard. I’m in a deluxe verandah cabin, which essentially is considered a mini-suite. The only significant difference between it and a standard verandah is a few feet of extra space (it’s longer not wider) and I’ve heard some mini-suites have tubs; mine is shower-only.

Show cabins are open again today so I’ll branch out from just talking about this one later – will have photos and commentary.

I’m going to be brutally honest and please understand – you may have different opinions! As always, feel free to post questions and comments….

Other than that, let’s start with the balcony:

Pros:

  • It’s nice and deep, though, again, remember my cabin category (standards, located on above decks, look more narrow).
  • Furnishings are comfortable enough – two mesh-covered chairs in gun-metal gray with a tiny cocktail table.
  • Mine’s completely covered and it feels like I’m on a ship with sturdy walls, privacy extenders and a glass front for a better view.
  • It’s a balcony. Nothing’s better on a ship than having your own bit of outside space, nothing! I also like that it really gives you an extra “room” to hang out in. And right now, there’s some really haunting jazz playing in the pool deck and strains are wafting down, sounds nice.

Cons:

  • My “nice enough” description of the furniture is faint praise. There’s enough room for a real dining table (plus the two chairs) and that’s a touch we’re seeing people really appreciate. Some cruise lines actually do this standard, in categories like this one; Celebrity comes to mind. Travelers really love to eat outdoors in the privacy of their balconies.
  • Some of the mini-suite balconies are uncovered (a la Princess’ Grand Princess Dolphin deck staterooms) and some are covered (mine is, fortunately). If you don’t like being exposed to all and sundry on your verandah, check Norwegian Epic’s deck plans before you select your stateroom.
  • I’m on deck 8; the lifeboats, with roofs painted in bold red and white stripes, are just below and entirely visible. If you’d rather see sea instead of lifeboat, be careful about deck 8 cabins. Also, it’s been my experience that in hot weather, and of course Norwegian Epic’s cruising in the Caribbean so it will be balmy, lifeboats reflect heat and can make it uncomfortable on the balcony.
  • It’s always nicest when verandahs are covered in teak-like flooring; this one’s got a cheerful green rubber floor mat, feels a bit tacky.
  • This is a bummer (for me, might not bother others). Apparently right below my cabin is an exhaust fan for, from the smell of it, pub fare at O’Sheehan’s kitchen. It’s not offensive but it’s a tad jarring.

CSB

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Norwegian Epic’s good news!

There’s good news from Norwegian Epic

We might be arriving early today in Southampton. I’m hearing onboard that there’s a good chance for a 2:30 p.m. arrival (three hours earlier than predicted yesterday though a good four hours-plus later than was originally scheduled). I have also found out that embarkation in Southampton for the tw0-night preview cruise is expected to begin at 6 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m.

We’ll keep you posted here and also via Cruise Critic’s news page (www.cruisecritic.co.uk/news).

There’s more good news – and another first for Norwegian Epic: Full-on sunshine means the pool deck will be open for business (it doesn’t hurt that we’re moving pretty slowly due to busted propeller so there’s not a wind tunnel situation). I’ll catch some photos of areas we haven’t yet covered because they were subsumed in gloom….

CSB

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Norwegian Epic’s Ice Bar

Norwegian Epic’s Ice Bar is of course one of the ship’s most unique features. Inspired by the Ice Bar in Stockholm (and beyond), it’s the exact same concept: you queue up at a designated hour, don a quite attractive pewter-colored nylon parka-poncho with fake fur hoodie, slip on some wool gloves, and head inside. About 20 people at a time can participate (you’re asked to show up on the hour, put on the protective gear, and then enter at half past, from 5 – 11 p.m.). Cost is $20 per person, and you get two tickets each for pre-made vodka drinks (think vodka/peach schnapps or vodka/Curacao) that are ice-like looking. And warming…

This is a “chalk this up to an experience” experience. The oddity of it makes the group of 20 strangers come together as if at a very civilized cocktail party (albeit one that takes place in Lapland in January). You’re very social if only because you’re trying to distract yourself from the fear that you might be getting cold, even with the extra outerwear! And be forewarned: Those who wear flip-flops do so at their own peril (beyond worries of frostbite, you might also slip; the floor slides a bit here and there where touches of ice have melted).

Though reservations are generally suggested, I just stopped on by (slow night? 5 spaces were available). I was on Deck 7, wandering past the Ice Bar enroute to Bar Central, and I was intrigued by a gaggle of people donning grey coats as if to embark on an Arctic expedition. I paid my $20, got my drink tickets and my gloves, and headed on in.

The actual time you spend inside maxes out at 45 minutes; most can’t take it much longer than a half hour or so before the cold penetrates, says Romeo, the Filipino bartender on duty for this shift. He can handle two Ice Bar sessions in a row (with a 15 minute break in between to warm up — and he does dress in layers), and then he moves on to warmer climes in Bar Central or elsewhere.

Tonight, we’re drinking our cocktails in plastic cups; Romeo says that the machine that makes the ice goblets is on the fritz. I frankly think the plastic’s easier to hang on to.

Beyond feverish chatting through clicking teeth, the big fun is to take silly photos of all and sundry. The furniture — yes there’s furniture — looks reasonably comfortable for a loveseat made out of ice, but, and I’m not sure you can see the terror in my face, some earlier patron has apparently warmed it up to the extent that it now slopes. Sit gingerly.

As the last of us headed out, having spent some 40 minutes in a glass-and-color-infused meat locker, Romeo endured one patron’s final question: “What did you do wrong to get assigned to this bar?” With a gentle smile and a ready quip he retorted, “Hey, we have the coolest job in town.”

I’m thinking that Paul (pictured first), a London-based cruise fan who’s onboard for this short sailing and then beyond, could help out if need be. Noting that he simply doesn’t feel the cold the way others do, he took off his parka shortly after entering — and stuck around for a good half hour in only his shirt sleeves (yes, his arms did have goose bumps!).

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Studio cabins

Easily ranking in the top three of things our readers most want to know about are Norwegian Epic’s studio cabins and lounge. As you may recall, NCL originally planned to make this grouping of very small cabins a sort of hipster’s retreat for the budget-impaired. Didn’t go over. So now — in a brilliant move that as I like to say made lemonade out of lemons — NCL decided to transform the space into cabins for solo travelers.

In a word? Small but oh-so-cozy. Each has a double bed, enough storage space, flat screen telly, neat ambient lighting (four different colors; one person at yesterday’s press conference wanted to know if it was an effort to introduce chronotherapy —  therapy of color? — into the ship). I think it just looks nice. Ironically, the frosted-glass bathrooms that are controversial in the cabins-for-two don’t exist here (here, you get a toilet and a shower in a regular, pre-fab plastic-formed bathroom. The irony of course is that here who cares about privacy: You’re in the cabin alone!

These are technically considered inside cabins but do have a window (with adjustable venetian blind) that looks into the corridor.

Loved the studio lounge, take a look at the photo. It’s just a sleek, contemporary place to chill out with its own coffee making facilities and also a bartender at certain times of the day. It feels more like Seabourn than NCL. Also a cool touch: there’s a vending area down the hall that sells the usual junk food (chips, candy, soda), though there’s no microwave (no need to be heating up pallid plastic containers of fake spaghetti with all the options the ship has to offer dining wise).

The whole thing reminds of the pod hotel craze that’s creeping into airport accommodations. All things equal, I’d prefer a cabin with a balcony for the same price as this — but if that’s delusional, well, I’d be happy here. Would you?

CSB

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