Some Really Great Cruises Away From the Madding Crowd – on Seabourn Quest, Le Boréal and Azamara Quest

Some Great Cruises Away From the Madding Crowd

For those who have been cruising for many years, one of the worst things about the recent huge growth in cruising has been its new mammoth ships with the massive crowds they bring. For the many who dislike crowds, overweening entertainment, ziplines, Blue Man Group and Red Frog beer, here are three cruises that will take you away from all that to explore areas of real interest. For each cruise we also quote “Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation” for his “strong points” on each line type of ship.

Now that Seattle-based ultra-luxury line Seabourn has all three of its larger 450-guest luxury ships, Seabourn Odysssey, Sojourn and Quest, in service, its fleet numbers 1,986 berths, including the original trio of Seabourn Legend, Pride and Spirit. A threefold growth in capacity over two years means that Seabourn now offers more berths than and twice as many ships as its predecessor Royal Viking Line when it operated its original trio of ultra-luxury ships on itineraries worlwide. In fact, today’s Seabourn offers much better value on board as it is all-inclusive, whereas on Royal Viking one had to pay for one’s bar bills, wines and gratuities.

For a Caribbean cruise on Seabourn, one couldn’t do better than to choose the Seabourn Quest, which made her maiden North American land when she arrived in Fort Lauderdale last week. The Quest will typically sail on 10-, 12- and 14-night Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale in November and December, and rather than calling at the mass-market ports of St Thomas, Cozumel and Costa Playa, none of which have any cultural appeal, she calls at out-of-the-way islands that are for the most part off the beaten track.

Typical calls include St Kitts, St Vincent, Mayreau, St Barts and St John as well as the more popular Barbados and Martinique, and usually a call at San Juan as well. The latter is so the Americans can buy their double duty free allowance, but rather than go shopping with them, take advantage of this opportunity to do your own private tours. A verandah suite will cost about £4,500 to £5,000 per person double for a fortnight including flights from the UK.

Stern’s Strong Points: “Top-of-the-line luxury (at top-of-the-line prices except when special offers are available on selected cruises), superb food, impeccable service, and elegant, spacious accommodations, as well as the most desired itineraries… The new 450-passenger ships offer the same exceptional dining, service and accommodations with additional space, facilities and entertainment. Most seasoned cruisers consider these the best ships in service today.”

An up-and-coming company in the news of recent is Marseilles-based Compagnie du Ponant, which has introduced two 264-guest yachtlike ships, Le Boréal and L’Austral, over the past couple of years, and has just ordered a third. The recent sale of Le Levant to Paul Gauguin Cruises and Le Diamant to buyers affiliated with International Shipping Partners means that this fleet will become more uniform, with three new sister ships and the original 60-berth Le Ponant, which took the company name and is now becoming more of a mascot. For this cruise we nominate Le Boréal’s May 9th Gastronomic sailing from Honfleur to Copenhagen by way of Ostend, Amsterdam, Hamburg and the Kiel Canal.

On this 5-night sailing three top chefs, Michelin three-star Jacques Marcon, two-star Jean-Marc Delacourt and Philippe Joannes, best chef in France of 2000, will be serving up gastronomic delights to match the ports of call. Fares start at £1,304 per person double occupancy. For those who like to combine business with pleasure Ostend is called at on Thursday and Amsterdam on Friday if you want to make appointments, but Hamburg will be called on Saturday so you can go and see the Maritime Museum. The cruise is only five nights but with such chefs on board perhaps that is enough at one go.

Stern’s Strong Points: “Le Boréal and L’Austral feature staterooms that measure from 200 square feet with a 56-suqre-foor balcony to 398 square feet with an 86-square-foot balcony and 484 square feet with a 97-square-foot balcony for the owner’s suite. Ninety-five per cent of the accommodations sport balconies.”

Another interesting cruise that avoids crowds and offers little extras is Miami-based Azamara Club Cruises, whose Azamara Quest cruises the Mediterranean by summer and autumn. Obe can join this Quest on August 18 at Venice for an overnight stay before sailing at 6 pm on the 19th for visits to Split, Dubrovnik, Kotor (an overnight stay), Brindisi, Corfu, Taormina, Amalfi (another overnight stay), Capri and Sorrento before finishing in Civitavecchia for Rome on August 29.

Cruise-only balcony fares begin at £2,709 and include fine boutique wines with lunch and dinner and a focus on culture and destinations on a ship that carries no more than 684 passengers. The Azamara Quest and her sister ship Azamara Journey were once members of the Renaissance fleet.

Stern’s Strong Points: “A more initimate cruise experience to exotic ports that many larger sjips cannot reach on longer itineraries, with a variety of entertainments, fine dining options and attentive service throughout the ship.”

There is not a single trace of Shrek, Spongebob Squarepants or Mickey on any of these ships, just a sense of calm and sophistication, Where larger ships need to have Retreats, Sanctuaries and Tranquility areas to get away from the endless activity, such areas would be totally pointless on these ships.

To book any of these cruises please call Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)207 723 2450 or e-mail

The Cruise Examiner for 28th November 2011: Some Great Cruises Away From the Mass Market – Other Cruise News: Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation 2012 – German Cruise Market Getting Close To Par With the UK

by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 28th November 2011

For those who have been cruising for many years, one of the worst things about the recent huge growth in cruising has been the new mammoth ships with the massive crowds they bring. For the many who dislike crowds, overweening entertainment, ziplines, Blue Man Group and Red Frog beer, here are three cruises that will take you away from all that to explore areas of real interest. These three rather interesting cruises, away from the crowds and big ships, take place on ships of a certain size with refined and relaxed atmospheres and a total abscence of cartoon characters, ships that remind one of the golden age of cruising.  So today we investigate cruising the unspoiled Caribbean in Seabourn Quest, Atlantic Europe (with three top chefs) in Le Boréal and the Mediterranean from Venice in Azamara Quest. We also examine the 2012 issue of “Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation,” just out, and some of “Stern’s Strong Points.”  And the latest statistics from the German DRV reveal a very successful year in German cruising, with 1.2 million ocean cruisers and 420,000 river cruisers. Germany’s ocean cruise revenues exceeded €2 billion for the first time this year, while river cruise operators generated €472 million. With 1.62 German cruisers and 1.65 UK cruisers in total, the German cruise market will probably surpass the UK’s in size much sooner than we think.

Illustration courtesy of Compagnie du Ponant.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                     (See previous columns)

The Cruise Examiner for 21st November 2011: The Best World Cruises For 2013 and 2014 – Norwegian Breakaway’s Transatlantic Voyage – Amsterdam River Cruise Expo – Ex-UK Cruise Projections

by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 21st November 2011

This week, we look at three upmarket lines, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea, and the world cruises they offer, plus Regent’s “build your own” world cruise. On Crystal’s 2014 cruise it is worth noting the lower number of port calls but the much longer stays of two and three nights in several ports as they join all-inclusive Seabourn and Silversea. Almost 20% (17 nights out of 89) of the Crystal cruise will be overnight stays. Elsewhere, Norwegian Breakaway will offer a spring Transatlantic sailing as her maiden voyage in 2013 before ramping up Norwegian Cruise Line’s New York to Bermuda capacity by 75%, while a River Cruise Expo with four river cruisers present has just finished in Amsterdam. We also look at some interesting projections of more people cruising from UK ports as opposed to flying to the ship as it seems 55,000 fewer people will fly to their cruise next year but 75,000 more will sail from the UK.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                     (See previous columns)

The Cruise Examiner for 14th November 2011 – Berlitz Guide to Cruising 2012 – Other Cruise News: US Gulf Ports Celebrate New Ships – Vancouver Sees 15% Cruise Passenger Rise

by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 14th November 2011

This year’s star cruise ship has got to be Oceania Cruises’ new Marina. By outscoring all three of her stable mates from Regent as well as her three fleetmates at Oceania, she has managed to propel herself into the five-star league to be rated number 18 out of 285 cruise ships worldwide scored in this year’s “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships.” At the same time, however, we have to wonder why two ships that have changed ownership and operation and a third that has not even changed her name yet end up with identical scores before and after the changes. Elsewhere, the US Gulf ports of New Orleans and Galveston have both greeted big new ships this weekend, with the Voyager of the Seas at New Orleans and the brand-new Carnival Magic greeted by Maroon 5 at Galveston. Meanwhile, as Seattle treads water in 2011, Vancouver has seen a 15% increase in cruise passengers with Oceania’s Regatta, the Disney Wonder and the Crystal Symphony bringing new business. Next year, however, will likely see Vancouver tread water while Seattle makes the gains, most notably with the defection of Disney Wonder from Vancouver to Seattle in 2012.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                      (See previous columns)

The Cruise Examiner for 7th November 2011 – Carnival Abandons Bermuda – Other Cruise News: UK Winter Turnaround – Carnival Hikes Gratuities by 15% – And Tips Down Under

by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 7th November 2011

The surprise news has broken that after fifteen calls this year by Carnival Cruise Lines, the line will cut back its 2012 Bermuda program from twelve calls to just one, next April. The curious thing is that no one seems to have said why this is happening, except that Carnival has planned alternate itineraries elsewhere. With complaints that Dockyard, a $35 taxi ride from the capital of Hamilton,  is too far away, with 45 minute waits in long lines in the baking sun for ferries and buses, and the fact that Bermuda does not allow shipboard casinos to open on overnight stays, maybe Bermuda needs to do a little research in an effort to improve its product and keep ships (and paying passengers) coming. In the UK, meanwhile, another chase for revenue maximization means that Royal Caribbean will be abandoning winter cruising from Southampton with its Independence of the Seas next year in favour of warm weather cruising from Fort Lauderdale for the foreseeable future. But P&O will place its Oriana and Oceana in Southampton instead. And back to Carnival again, after ten years of no increase, that line is hiking its recommended daily gratuities per person by 15% while it does away with tipping under a new “tipping not required” policy on its Carnival Spirit Down Under. Celebrity, meanwhile, will retain tipping on its Celebrity Century when she goes Down Under.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                          (See previous columns)

Crystal’s 7-Night September 2012 Round Trip From Montreal Revives an Old Format – Plus Canada New England Cruises

The five-star all-inclusive (in 2012) Crystal Symphony in a night shot at Montreal

Crystal Cruises has decided to pick up on a formula that has not been used now for twenty years, a 7-night round trip cruise from Montreal on Crystal Symphony on September 30, 2012. By this time she will be all-inclusive for the first time, with wines, bar drinks and on board beverages, as well as gratuities, included in the fare.

Canada New England cruises date to 1894, when the Quebec Steamship Company, with Thomas Cook as its agent, offered the first such cruise in its Orinoco. Typically, these have started in either New York or Boston and ended in Montreal or Quebec, or vice versa. But another type of cruise that was also offered for many decades was the round trip cruise from Montreal, something that was first offered by the Quebec Steamship Company even before Canada New England cruises, and is now being revived by Crystal Cruises.

Quebec’s magnificent Fairmont Chateau Frontenac

Indicative of the gradual progress being made by new cruise ports in the Gulf of St Lawrence, three of the four ports of call, Sept Iles, the Magdalen Islands and the French Atlantic islands of St Pierre et Miquelon, will be first time calls for Crystal. The fourth, Quebec, has recently been voted the most popular cruise port in North America.

Sept Îles is a new and upcoming port, having only opened a cruise terminal in 2010 after Holland America’s Maasdam became the first modern age cruise ship to call there on May 19, 2009. Cruises had once before been operated to Sept Iles, but not since the North Shore highway was extended from Baie Comeau and the last coastal passenger ship cleared for Montreal at the end of 1961.

The new wharf extension at Sept Iles allows cruise passengers to take a new train to visit a native Innu summer camp on the Moisie River. This river is famed for its salmon and has been fished by prime ministers. The Innu themselves are descended from the Montagnais tribes that used to spend their winters in the bush trapping and come down the rivers in their canoes to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company and others on the St Lawrence in the summer.

Cruising to the North Shore and Labrador was most popular with the Clarke Steamship Co, founded in 1921 by what up until then had been a family involved in publishing and pulp and paper. Below is a typical scene from 1935, with Clarke’s North Voyageur, the first of three ships to carry that name, berthed at Clarke City wharf at Pointe Noire, now part of the Port of Sept Iles.

Meeting the ship is the Gulf Pulp & Paper Company’s locomotive number 20, a unit that had been built for the Intercolonial Railway in 1900 and acquired by Gulf Pulp & Paper in 1924. Behind her are a combination passenger and freight car and a number of flat cars. The bell-mouthed smokestack was to prevent sparks from starting forest fires along the nine-mile railway line that linked the wharf with the pulp mill  town of Clarke City.

Cruises on the North Voyageur, which had berths for 62 overnight passengers, ran 12 nights round trip  from Montreal and started at $100. Ports of call included Quebec, Godbout, Clarke City, Havre St Pierre, Natashquan and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, returning via Natashquan, Sept Iles and Franquelin. Today, ships as large as the Queen Mary 2 call at Corner Brook, which has also seen a revival in cruising.

In 2013, Crystal Symphony will repeat her 7-night Montreal round trip itinerary on September 26 and will add yet another new port, Havre St Pierre, where she will make calls on two other cruises.

Slowly, it seems, cruising the Gulf of St Lawrence is making some progress. Some people have even tried to describe these Gulf and Labrador cruises as a new Alaska.

Here is a summary of all five of Crystal Symphony’s autumn 2012 cruises to and from Montreal.

New York to Montréal, September 19 – 30, 2012 (13 nights). Calls: New York, Newport, Boston, Bar Harbor, Saint John, Halifax, Québec City, and Montreal. From £3,439. (*)

Round-trip Montréal, September 30 – October 7, 2012 (9 nights). Calls: Montreal, Sept-Iles, Magdalen Islands, St-Pierre et Miquelon, Québec City. From £2,623. (*)

Montréal to Boston, October 7 – 14, 2012 (9 nights). Calls: Montreal, Québec City, Halifax, Bar Harbor and Boston. From £2,478 (*).

Boston to Montréal, October 14 – 21, 2012 (9 nights). Calls : Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Québec City and Montreal. From £2,307. (*)

Montréal to New York, October 21 – 31, 2012 (12 nights). Calls: Montreal, Québec City, Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston, Newport and New York. From £2,807. (*)

(*) All fares are per person in double occupancy and include return economy flights and port taxes. Hotels & transfers are additional. Number of nights given for each cruise applies to fly/cruise package from the UK..

For further details on any Crystal cruise, please call Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail