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We’ve moved!

Our Cruise Critic blog has a new home at www.cruisecritic.co.uk/blog. Now that you can find the blog on Cruise Critic itself, it’ll be a lot easier to follow our posts along with our regular features, such as news, community and reviews.

Please change your bookmark – and then head over to Cruise Critic. We look forward to seeing you there.

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Just how big is Oasis of the Seas?

Click to see the full-size version. Image courtesy of IGLU.com

So just how big is Royal Caribbean’s mammoth Oasis of the Seas?

Our friends over at U.K. travel agency,  www.iglucruise.com, have created this fun graphic to show the true size of the 225,282-ton,  5,400-passenger ship!

It just goes to show how cruise ships have advanced over the years — according to this chart, Oasis is three times the size of the QE2 and five times bigger than the Titanic.

The picture also gives some handy information about ship building and the fast facts on how much food is consumed at sea!

One staggering fact is that Disney Cruise Line serves up 5,000 eggs each morning! Mind you, after seeing plates piled sky-high in the buffet restaurants at breakfast, we can see how this may be possible!

Do you have any fun cruise ship facts? Share them with us!

KR

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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.

CSB

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No karaoke, thanks, we’re British

When it comes to the new concept of performing karaoke on board to a live band , Cruise Critic’s UK fans have spoken! And put it this way, they’re not queuing up to be first in line for ‘My Way’.

We ran a poll yesterday on our home page asking “Karaoke with a live band on a cruise is…”, and these were the answers:

  • A great opportunity for budding singers: 6.8%
  • An activity that should be banned: 46.60%
  • Something that should be subject to audition first: 16.5%
  • A good idea after a few drinks: 30.10%

Seems slightly Scrooge-like, wanting karaoke scrapped altogether; I’ve always felt it fits well in small, enclosed, ideally private spaces, late at night and dimly lit. Nearly a third of you seemed closer to supporting this more tentative approach, saying it would be ‘a good idea after a few drinks’.  

But it doesn’t look as though our sample audience is buying into the full rock band and backing singers that’s becoming all the rage at sea. We’ll stick to the dodgy lyrics and cheapo backing videos of pub karaoke, thanks! SJB

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Yacht charters fit for a Queen

There’s a lot of carping in the media and on various internet forums about the Queen’s expenditure on the charter of a former ferry, the 49-passenger Hebridean Princess, for her holiday.

Fir for a queen: Hebridean Princess

The moaners seem to be confusing the issue of taxpayers’ money and the Queen’s private income; it’s the latter that has funded this trip. (Cruise Critic members, incidentally, have been a little more charitable.)

Rude though it is to ask somebody what they paid for their holiday, I suppose Her Majesty isn’t going to be spared any scrutiny. So what have the royals actually forked out? Media estimates swing wildly from £125,000 to £300,000 and the reality is probably somewhere in between.

I totted up all the cabins at their lead-in price for the cruise following the royal charter and it comes to £162,640 total, per week. Multiply by two for a fortnight and knock off five percent discount for a repeat booking (remember, the Queen chartered the ship before in 2006) and you get just over £309,000.

Realistically, though, there would be a much bigger discount for a fortnight’s charter – at least 20 percent more — and the ship will be empty for four of the 14 nights so there’s a saving to be made on the all-inclusive booze. I’d reckon the royals have paid £250,000 absolute maximum for the ship, discounting security, which is a fixed cost. Not that we’ll ever know!

More to the point, to all those who have condemned the holiday, what was the alternative? The royal family can hardly stay in a hotel, unless they kick out all the other guests, and maybe they’re bored with Balmoral year in, year out. If the Queen wanted a cruise of some kind, private charter is the only answer.

So I had a look at the charter site of Edmiston Yachts, one of the poshest brokers. Adding up all the royals who were mentioned on the BBC news as the party boarded Hebridean Princess last Friday, I figured there would be at least 14 cabins required, assuming double occupancy and excluding security people, flunkies and so on.

The cheapest yacht that fits the brief on the Edmiston site is Atmosphere, which takes 28 and costs from $197,450 (£128,214) a week with no provisioning, and that’s an ugly thing with a helipad on top. The much nicer Sherakhan takes 26 and comes in at a modest €395,000 a week, or around £718,000 for a fortnight. No food or booze included.  And neither yacht is based in Scotland, where Her Majesty prefers to cruise.

Makes Hebridean Princess look like better value, doesn’t it?

SJB

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3 reasons to take an “exotic” Northern Europe cruise

If in cruise line marketing efforts, Northern Europe is largely defined through itineraries that focus on the great Nordic capitals or that dip into Norway’s fjords, well…that’s not all there is to the region. On a genuinely enticing itinerary this week aboard Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey, in which only the homeport of Copenhagen represented any destination even remotely on the trodden track, I discovered three reasons why an exotic ports cruise of northern Europe offers amazing adventures:

Azamara Journey in Orkney

*We’re the only ship in port. Forget the cruise hordes that flock to Nordic cities on summer days – ports on our route, like Reykjavik, the Orkney Islands’ Kirkwall, and the Faroe Islands’ Torshavn were one-ship towns. Locals seemed genuinely welcoming and at  attractions, from the Orkney Islands’ well-known Ring of Brodgar – an early Bronze Age precursor to Stonehenge – to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, the atmosphere was reasonably laid back and crowds were manageable.

*In summer don’t you want to be outside? “If there is such a thing as fun, this is it!” shrieked fellow passenger Justin Hilliard, a teenager from Nashville. He was talking about the “fjord and sea safari by RIB” excursion in Torshavn and he was right. The first boat ride I’ve ever taken wearing a helmet, the 12-seater can go as fast as 55 knots (trust me, the meek do not want to sit in the front seat) while you sit on a pommel-horse contraption and hold on for dear life.

Speed boat

The speed boat takes time as well to meander in and out of seriously gorge-beautiful fjords, weaving in and out of caves so narrow and low-slung (hence the need for helmets) that you can see where the rock formations were burned when they were hurtled out of a volcano eons ago to form the islands that make up the Faroes.  You also get up-close views of the myriad rock platforms where puffins have made their homes.

Faroe Islands boat tour

Just to make the experience a little bit different, the captain plays 1980s’ rock tunes; in the caves the audio reverberates against the rocks. And for cruise ship fans, the neatest moment was when he nudged the inflatable boat right up against Journey’s hull.

Iceland's landscape

*Do something daring! Azamara’s recently revamped its shore excursion menu to add numerous options not just for recreation but also for adventure. Iceland’s Reykjavik, famed for its “white nights” summer bacchanals, is a delightful urban capital, easy to explore independently. But less easy and more challenging is a visit to the rugged interior. While quite far from the troublesome volcanic duo of Eyjafjallajökull and Hekla (the former of course disrupted international travel this spring after a s eries of eruptions and the latter is reputedly on the cusp of a major eruption), our trip, via a Ford Club Wagon “Super Jeep” (used to cross Antarctica and also the deserts of the Middle East) wasn’t pretty but sure did capture an aspect of Iceland.

Roughly equitable to traveling down a farm lane studded with post-winter potholes, we crossed through lava fields, ascended steep off-road mini mountains, and splashed through a mighty river.

On a jeep in Iceland

Other ports visited on this cruise on Azamara Journey included Norway’s Geiranger, Scotland’s Shetland and Orkney islands, and Iceland’s Akeyuri.

Exotic spin-offs of mainstream cruises aren’t limited by any means to Northern Europe. For you, which offbeat ports in the Mediterranean do you think would make a memorable cruise more memorable?

CSB

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Royal family sets sail

Back in January, we reported that the royal family had chartered the 49-passenger boutique ship Hebridean Princess for a summer jaunt around the coast of Scotland.

Well, today’s departure day, according to reports on Sky News and STV. And sure enough, although Hebridean executives are still keeping quiet about the charter, the company’s website is still showing the ship out of service until August 5.

Hebridean Princess

The Queen is no stranger to Hebridean Princess. She chartered the ship in 2006 for her 80th birthday celebrations. This year, there are two more ‘big’ birthday bashes, as the Princess Royal is 60 and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, hits 50. So why not?

Naturally, the itinerary and cost are being kept under wraps but typically, the tiny ship will potter through the remote Western Isles while its passengers enjoy the finest of Scottish cuisine and a magnificent range of single malts. Estimates in the media put the cost at around £150,000, with Her Majesty footing the bill herself.

Meanwhile, lovers of Scottish cruising might want to consider their own wee jolly in the exclusive style of the royals, as a line even tinier than Hebridean is offering charters of a very lovely ship for a special deal of just £10,000. The Majestic Line , which sails two wonderful old converted wooden fishing vessels in the same region as Hebridean, will take up to 11 guests on a six-night sailing out of Oban including all food, wine and shore trips. 

Yours for £10,000

There will be no paparazzi-style spying on the royals, as Majestic’s offer is for August, but it’s a pretty good deal nonetheless.

There’s only one caveat (no such thing as a free lunch, after all); August is peak midge season in Scotland, so if you snap up this offer, pack plenty of insect repellent! SJB

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