The Cruise People Sample a Cargo Ship Voyage With CMA CGM

On Sunday, August 19, at 9:30 pm, The Cruise People’s Miri Lopusna and I joined the 5,780 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) container ship CMA CGM Chopin at Southampton Container Terminals, berthed just forward of Hapag-Lloyd’s gigantic new 13,200 TEU Hamburg Express, calling on her maiden voyage. It is late and we have eaten on the train on the way down from London, so we sign on board and turn in early, anticipating a 6:30 am departure. Running into Commandant Jean-Michel Serra, however, we learn that our departure has been delayed until 10:30 am, so we are able to sleep in a little — breakfast runs 7 to 9 am.

My colleague Miri has lucked in on this one, as while we are both on Deck F along with the commandant and chief engineer, she gets the Senior Officer’s Spare Cabin A with 4’7” double bed, while I am accommodated in the Owners Cabin, which has two 3-foot beds. Both staterooms are forward-facing and as they are on the highest cabin deck have a view over the container load.

The CMA CGM Chopin and her sister ships CMA CGM Puccini, Verdi and Wagner are each furnished with five cabins for passengers, two of which have double beds. Each cabin is en suite and has its own sofa, coffee table, desk, chair and fridge as well as two wide windows facing forward and its own deck chairs stowed away next to the wardrobes. Those on Deck E, however, are likely to have their windows obscured by containers. The ship is also equipped with an outdoor swimming pool on Deck E and a gymnasium, rowing machine, bicycle, ping pong table and library on Deck A.

As our Monday morning departure has been delayed we are able to enjoy a relatively relaxed breakfast in the Officers Mess on Deck B — the four decks between our cabins and our meals also make for good exercise. Breakfast is fried eggs and brown toast with tea for me, and baguette with jam and coffee for Miri.

We also meet our fellow passengers, Pat from Washington DC and Jewel, an American now living in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, near Playa del Carmen. Both ladies boarded at Southampton and will be accompanying the ship as far as Jebel Ali, and then flying home from Dubai. Departure is interesting as, with the tide out, we have to reverse through a narrow channel and then turn in the congested waters off a local yacht club anchorage before we are able to proceed down the Solent and thus to sea.

Once down the Solent, our lunch as we pass Cowes is Salad Nicoise, Hamburger Steak with mustard sauce and green beans, assorted cheeses with fresh baguettes, tea, coffee and an ice cream stick. Meal hours on French ships are quite a bit later than on German ones, with breakfast typically running as late as 9 am, lunch the usual 12 to 1 pm and dinner at a reasonable 7 to 8 pm. This compares to German ships with 7:30 to 8 am breakfast, 11:30 to 12:30 lunch and 5:30 to 6 pm dinner. Coffee and tea on the French ships is also available between 10 am and 3 pm.

At 4 pm we have our safety drill on the bridge and are instructed on the signals for Emergency, Fire and Abandon Ship and shown to the lifeboats six decks down on Deck A. Having walked down from the bridge (there is also a lift) we four passengers decide we might as well continue down to the Upper Deck and do a circuit of the ship, walking the port side up to the bows and climbing into the forecastle and later back on the starboard side all the way to the stern to complete the full circuit and re-enter the ship on the port side again.

This class of ship has the superstructure three-quarters aft with containers stowed both forward and aft of the accommodation. The walk-around promenade passes under the outboard containers and gives access to all areas of the ship while at sea, but passengers should only use this area in calm seas and  inform the officer of the watch when going forward so that the crew are aware of their whereabouts. And they should never enter this area while the ship is working in port as moving equipment makes it very dangerous.

Our ship was built by Samsung Shipbuilding in South Korea in 2004, measures 910 feet overall by 131 feet, and has a maximum speed of 25 knots. While only half the size of the Hapag-Lloyd ship berthed astern of us in Southampton, the CMA CGM Chopin is still a post-Panamax ship, too wide to transit the old locks of the Panama Canal. Her senior officers and cadets are French and her Filipino  junior officers and crew have just taken over from a Romanian crew on the previous voyage.

This we learn from Adelfo, the Filipino third officer who signed us in on Sunday night and from Anthony, our steward, who, as it turns out, had served five years on board Queen Elizabeth 2 (and was on board when I crossed in her in 2001) and a year in Queen Mary 2 before moving over to CMA CGM five years ago.

Dinner that evening is a very good vegetable soup (we all have seconds), Chicken Cordon Bleu with spaghetti, assorted cheeses and fresh fruit for dessert, accompanied by the French line’s usual complimentary table wine. Much revolves around the meals on the French-flag ships especially as the chef is of course French and wine comes with the meals. That evening, as we coast past Dunkirk and the beaches of Flanders and Holland, we all turn in early for an expected 5 am arrival at the Nieuw Waterway into Rotterdam the next day, where we will be duly alongside our container berth by 7 am.

The European Container Terminal’s Amazonekade, where we berth in the Port of Rotterdam is forty kilometres from Central Rotterdam. The terminal itself is quite fascinating as most of its trailers and straddle carriers are driverless, with the real people only operating the ship-to-shore gantries and removing the twist locks from containers coming ashore. Worth a visit in Rotterdam itself are the preserved Holland America liner Rotterdam, the Hotel New York, once the headquarters of the Holland America Line, and the city’s Maritime Museum.

Rotterdam is modern, having been heavily bombed during the Second World War. Be warned, however, that the taxi fare between the container berth and the city itself can be €100 each way. Luckily, the passengers on our ship are able to split the expense four ways. Dinner on our return to the ship is a pink grapefruit seafood cocktail followed by roast pork tenderloin with gravy (and the lunch we missed was chicken).

The next day is another day at sea, with more great soups, salmon for lunch and lamb stew for dinner, along with the usual complimentary wine and assortment of cheeses and baguettes. That afternoon, we are invited to go on a guided engine room tour to see the ship’s 10-cylinder 77,000-horsepower diesel engine and controls, shaft and shaft and auxiliary generators, workshop, freshwater condenser and oil and water separators.

This is followed by time on the bridge observing the navigation of the ship. We pick up our Elbe pilot at about 5 pm, pass Cuxhaven before the river narrows, and then the locks at the mouth of the Kiel Canal, making our way up the Elbe and finally coming alongside in Hamburg at 11:30 pm. After a fascinating four nights, we disembark early the next morning to go about our business.

Our fellow passengers meanwhile will carry on to Antwerp, Dunkirk and Le Havre, where the ship will be replenished with new supplies, and then on to Port Said East, Khor Fakkan in the Emirates and Jebel Ali, Dubai, where they will disembark.

For those wishing to investigate longer voyages more than 350 passenger-carrying cargo ships are now available, and 65 of those are operated by CMA CGM. Bookings can be made through Miri Lopusna (pictured above with the two lady passengers) at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or by e-mail at

The Cruise Examiner Samples A Cargo Ship Voyage – Star Clippers To Cruise From Cuba – American Queen Steamboat Company


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 27th August 2012

Last week The Cruise Examiner sampled freighter travel on a coastal voyage from Southampton to Rotterdam and Hamburg, and today reports on his experience on board the French-flag container ship CMA CGM Chopin. Cargo ship cruises are now offered on over 300 cargo ships worlwise and can be booked through specialist agents such as The Cruise People Ltd. In other news, this weekend Star Clippers announced a program of Cuban cruises for its 170-guest Star Flyer in 2014, while the Great American Steamboat Company has quietly changed its name to the American Queen Steamboat Company, the better to reflect its business as operators of the 436-berth American Queen, while the 150-berth competitor Queen of the Mississippi was christened in Nashville this weekend.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                       (See previous columns)

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises To Release International Brochure For Its New 516-guest Flagship Europa 2 In London This September

For those following the introduction of the world’s most exciting new cruise ship in a decade, our UK clients will be pleased to know that Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is releasing its English-language brochure for its new 40,000-ton Europa 2 on Thursday, September 13, in London. The new ship has been designed to cater not only to the German-speaking market, where Hapag-Lloyd have been particularly strong, but also to the international trade in general.

Now under construction at St Nazaire, in the shipyard that built the Ile de France, the Normandie, the France and the Queen Mary 2, the 516-guest Europa 2 will feature all-balcony accommodations,  some of the most stylish restaurants afloat and a myriad of new features, and will have the highest passenger space ratio of any ship afloat.

The Europa 2 will undertake her maiden voyage from Hamburg to Lisbon between May 11 and 25, 2013, and may also make an inaugural appearance at Southampton in early May on her way from the shipyard in St Nazaire to her delivery in Hamburg – so watch this space for further news.

For further details on any of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ international offerings please contact Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail

Cunard and P&O Each To Offer Three World Cruises in 2014 – Royal Princess Floated Out – The Cruise Examiner Goes To Sea Again


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 20th August 2012

Princess Cruises’  third Royal Princess was floated out at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone yard last week

Last week both Cunard Line and P&O Cruises announced that they would be offering three world or extended cruises in 2014. Cunard’s cruises involve all three of its Queens, Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, while P&O Cruises’ voyages will be offered by three of the line’s “A” team – Arcadia, Aurora and Adonia. Meanwhile, at Monfalcone last week, Princess Cruises floated out its newest ship, the third Royal Princess. And finally, The Cruise Examiner is today on board the 10-passenger French container ship CMA CGM Chopin. en route from Southampton to Rotterdam and Hamburg, and will report next week on the renewed popularity of cargo ship cruising.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                       (See previous columns)

Yet Another Line Cuts Bermuda Calls – Costa Pacifica Goes Green – Royal Caribbean Keeps Steady Eye on Pullmantur


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 13th August 2012

This weekend Bermuda received more bad news from another cruise line. Apart from the fact that Holland America Line will end its weekly service by the Veendam (pictured) from New York to the island’s capital of Hamilton in two weeks, Royal Caribbean has now announced that it will reduce the number of berths it offers to Bermuda next year by 20%. Not only that but its new Baltimore ship, which is where the reductions will occur, will have 15% less capacity than the ship she replaces. Meanwhile, Costa Cruises has commenced a trial recycling program on board Costa Pacifica that will look for further efficiencies in shipboard waste management and recycling. And finally, we have a look at how the Eurozone problems and a weak Spanish economy are affecting the Spanish cruise market.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                       (See previous columns)

Photo courtesy The Royal Gazette, Bermuda

Reaction To North American ECA – Other Cruise News: First Quarter Cruise Results Vary – Royal Caribbean Denies China Newbuilding Role


          by Kevin Griffin

     The Cruise Examiner for 6th August 2012

Last week, the North American Emission Control Area (ECA) went into effect, calling for ships sailing less than 200 nautical miles from the coast to burn fuel with a sulphur content of no more than 1%, but the local cruise industry is unhappy with the situation and, fearing 2.2 million fewer cruisers visiting North American ports, is lobbying for changes. Likewise, the State of Alaska, fearing a loss of 585,000 of its own visitors, is suing the US Government, saying that implementation of the new ECA is unconstitutional. The big three cruise groups also reported on the second quarter of 2012 last week — Norwegian’s profit increased, Carnival’s dropped significantly, and Royal Caribbean reported a loss. Finally, while it has announced plans to send two 3,114-berth ships, the Mariner of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas, to China in 2013, Royal Caribbean told Seatrade Insider last week that it has not signed any deal to build a cruise ship in China.

THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                       (See previous columns)