Transit The Panama Canal And Explore the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica In The 72-passenger Mega-Yacht Variety Voyager

We get requests all the time from people wanting to transit the Panama Canal by cargo ship. However, these are not really practical requests as in order to do so one must book a long trip from Savannah to Sydney or from Hong Kong to New York and most people do not have that sort of time. But it can be done in a week without taking a huge cruise ship, with canal transit by daylight, obviating the risk that you might go through in the dark!

Variety Voyager PanamaVariety Cruises have an easy 7-night solution – a cruise in the 223-foot Variety Voyager with a small number of passengers starting in Los Suenos, Costa Rica and finishing at the Departure Bay Marina in Colon, Panama – with a visit to the San Blas Islands thrown in. This winter’s departures run from December 21 through March 1, 2015.

The same Panama Canal and Costa Rica exploration can also be booked in the other direction, with boarding at the Departure Bay Marina and sailings running from December 14 through to March 8, 2015. Fares in either direction start at  €2,150 (about $2,999 or £1,785) per person double occupancy for 7 nights, plus €320 (about $445 or £265) port charges. Calls are also made at Curu, Tortuga Island, Puerto Jimenez and Golfito (do you remember that Fyffes banana boat called Golfito?) in Costa Rica and Amador and Coiba Island in Panama.

The Variety Voyager was built at Perama, Greece, in 2012 and can accommodate a maximum of 72 passengers in 36 double cabins.  Her sleek lines and ample deck space are very much what one might expect from a millionaire’s super yacht. Her cabins and public areas are finished with warm fabrics, rich marble, axminster carpeting and soft-tone wood panelling., with unobstructed views from the decks and lounges of the ocean and of ports visited. Above all, you will have the professional service of a crew of 30, always with a smile and a desire to satisfy.

For further details of cruising the Panama Canal and Costa Rica in a small ship please call The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail or in North America 1-800-961-5536 or e-mail

Recent Cruise Review of the 51.044-ton 960-guest Crystal Symphony

S24381KThis review by Hall Coons of a voyage in the Crystal Symphony first appeared on Liners List on June 12, 2014:

My three sons and I are just back from a trip to New England and Nova Scotia. We used the Crystal Symphony as transport from New York up to Halifax.  We were aboard Crystal Symphony for five days – she was on a longer voyage from New York to Iceland, but we only booked the segment to Halifax.  It is nice that Crystal offers these short segments on their longer cruises, as they can be used to travel between ports that do not usually offer any passenger ship services.   Our short voyage from New York also stopped at Newport, Boston, and Bar Harbor.

I am sure that most listers will not have a particularly high opinion of Crystal Symphony.  She is one of the first of the All Outside Cabin cruise  ships  and in many ways resembles the very first AOC ship, Royal Princess (i). First of all the bad news, don’t sail Crystal Symphonyif you are sailing for bold and exciting interior décor.  It is all (well mostly) very bland modern big Hotel style. Lots of beiges , glass , and neutral colors.  The only public rooms that had any notable style were the small Movie Theatre (bright white seats along with a light purple lighting) and the small wood-panelled library.  Also cabins, while very modern, are on the small size for a luxury ship.

But Oh the service!  Honestly, this ship has the best crew and best service that I have encountered in 40 years. The ship has an international crew, but they are predominately from Europe and South America. Our female dining room steward was from Brazil and her male assistant was from Spain. They both offered top notch service.  Every crew member that I encountered seemed to really be enjoying their job and all were friendly, outgoing, and interested in meeting the passengers requests.  And much to my surprise, this ship has deck stewards who really do deck steward work !  Not just selling you drinks (all are included in your ticket on Crystal) but they worked to find you a deck chair or seat, bring you some food from the Quick Service Lunch Counter (aka Trident Grill) or bring you a chilled towel.

The other outstanding feature of the Crystal Symphony is the food.  Really excellent, gourmet quality food served in a professional style.  The menus offer a wide selection of items and everything I had was excellent. Special requests were quickly handled and welcomed.  Food at the lido was also top notch, and the Trident Grill offered the usual hamburgers and hot dogs along with a lot of other choices like salads, pizzas, steak sandwiches, grilled chicken, fresh fruit, etc…. Also the free ice cream bar offered a broad array of choices along with milk shakes and ice cream floats.  Afternoon tea was an event and really a meal within itself.  Warm bouillon was served on the tenders on cool days !  I can’t say enough good things about the quality of the food, the selection, freshness…I mean really it could not have been better in my opinion.

So if you like a cruise for top notch s ervice and great food, I strongly recommend Crystal.

Other features of the ship were a really nice and big swimming pool.  A large hot tub.  A wrap around promenade deck (but not deck chairs here). Tons of open deck space.  A large deck tennis court.  Small putting green.  Secluded tanning space at the front of the ship.

Another notable feature of this voyage was that you never had to wait more than about two minutes for anything !  Even tender boarding only took a two-minute wait.  All meals quickly served, room service right on time, shows on time, boarding the ship was a breeze, and leaving the last day was quick and easy.

So as you can tell I loved the Crystal Symphony.  I hope to sail on her, or her sister, again in the next few years.  She is a bit more expensive than most ships, but you definitely get what you pay for.

For further details on Crystal Cruises please call Gay Scruton at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail or in North America call 1-800-961-5536 or e-mail

The Evolution of Cruise Ship Design – Noble Caledonia Goes To Three Ships – Louis Expands in France and Canada

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 9th June 2014..

MSC Seaside design

The illustrations for the new MSC “Seaside” class from Fincantieri have provoked some discussion on recent changes in cruise ship design, which we examine today. Elsewhere, Noble Caledonia last week also announced that it was acquiring a third unit of the original eight-ship 114-berth Renaissance small ship class, and the third of four sister ships from the Apuania shipyard south of La Spezia. Meanwhile, Louis Cruises is out to triple its French business to 10,000 passengers and has announced a second season for the Louis Cristal on charter to Cuba Cruise from Havana.

FOR THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                                          (See previous columns)

Image courtesy of Fincantieri

Canadian Cruise Ship North Star Was Headquarters Landing Ship HMCS Prince Henry At Normandy Beaches – D-Day, June 6, 1944


North Star at Bonne BayBefore the war, HMCS Prince Henry had been the Clarke Steamship Company’s 6,893-ton cruise ship t.s.s. North Star (above), cruising from Montreal, New York and Miami. After conversion from an armed merchant cruiser, she recommissioned as a Landing Ship (Infantry) at Vancouver on January 6, 1944, and stopped in Bermuda en route to the Clyde to pick up school children returning to Britain. Her commanding officer wartime, Capt Val Godfrey RCN, had featured in the film “Commandos Strike at Dawn,” released by Columbia Pictures in January 1943.

HMCS Prince HenryOn arrival, the Prince Henry (above) underwent final modifications at John Brown & Company at Clydebank and prepared to take part in the D-Day landings at Normandy. She proceeded to Southampton, where on June 2 at Berth 37 she embarked the 528th Flotilla landing craft, and 227 of the Canadian Scottish Regiment of Victoria, plus 99 other troops before going to anchor in the Solent, off Cowes, to await D-Day.

Prince Henry was headquarters ship for Force J1, twenty-two merchantmen destined for Juno Beach under escort of destroyer HMCS Algonquin. In addition to the Prince Henry, landing ships in Force J1 included the 11,951-ton Union-Castle liner Llangibby Castle, with eighteen landing craft, plus half a dozen British cross-channel packets and two Dutch North Sea ferries, each with its own outfit of six or eight landing craft to take troops to the beaches.

On June 5, HMCS Prince Henry led her formation out from the Solent and across the Channel. Although no longer a cruise ship, the meals she served her troops that voyage before they went into combat in the morning were well above the usual military standard. Prince Henry arrived at Juno Beach at 06:06 on the morning of D-Day, June 6, anchoring about seven miles off the hamlet of Courseulles. There, she waited to launch her landing craft and commence the invasion of occupied France.

Offshore lay rocky shoals so rather than try to find a gap in them the Canadians chose to land ten minutes after the rest, letting the higher tide take them over the shoals. All but one of Prince Henry‘s landing craft managed to return – the unlucky one had been mined. The others were hoisted back on board while fifty-six wounded were taken below to the sick bay. Prince Henry made five more channel runs as the Normandy landings proceeded, three with American and two with British troops, taking 3,704 fighting men to France by mid-July.

On June 19, a fortnight after the initial landings, a very business-like photo of Prince Henry in her new guise as a landing ship appeared in Canadian newspapers. Under the heading “Beauty to Battlewagon,” it commented: –

Once a sleek, swift passenger liner, HMCS Prince Henry is shown here as she was converted to take part in the invasion of France. The long promenade decks where peace-time passengers strolled have been cleared away and in their place are powerful davits supporting assault landing craft. It was from the Prince Henry and her sister ship, the HMCS Prince David, that assault landing craft, manned by Royal Canadian Navy personnel, were launched on D-Day to hurl the first wave of Canadian soldiers against the beaches of Normandy.

Hundreds of ships took part in the landings, among them a fleet of 126 coasters and short-sea ships that loaded mainly in London. Included were nine St Lawrence River canallers. One of these was the Winona, a ship that had worked for Clarke, and one of four Canada Steamship Lines ships that participated in the Normandy landings.

Of 300 large cargo ships that took part, thirty-three were 10,000-ton Canadian-built “Fort” class ships, equivalents of the American “Liberty” ship. Most of the “Forts” loaded in the Thames and many took troops with them. A few left from Hull. Thirty-three “Fort” ships could carry the equivalent of almost 10,000 railcar loads of vital equipment, supplies and ammunition to the Normandy beachhead.

In addition to HMCS Prince Henry and sister ship Prince David, the Royal Canadian Navy supplied eleven destroyers, eleven frigates and nineteen corvettes, plus numerous minesweepers, motor torpedo boats and landing craft. Of these, seven MTBs were lost on the day of the landings.

HMCS LindsayOne of the Canadian corvettes, HMCS Lindsay (left), escorted a convoy of nine merchant ships from Milford Haven in Wales to the beaches of Normandy, seeing action with German E-Boats in the English Channel on the way. On June 9, she became the eighteenth Canadian corvette to arrive at Normandy, firing countless salvos at the German gun emplacements ashore. Within eighteen months of the landings at Normandy, HMCS Lindsay would find herself playing a new peacetime role with the Clarke Steamship Co as the converted Gulf of St Lawrence express passenger ship North Shore, sailing weekly from Montreal.

After the war HMCS Prince Henry became the Harwich-Hook of Holland troopship HMT Empire Parkeston, lasting until 1962.


Latest Cruise Ship Changes and New Orders – Whither the Oases? – Explorer Abandons Shorter Cruises

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 2nd June 2014..

MSC Seaside class

MSC’s Italian-built 154,000-ton “Seaside” class will carry 4,140 passengers while a 167,600-ton French pair will carry 4,500

There was no Cruise Examiner last week because of overseas travel, but in the meantime there has been much news. First off, the new Holland America Group announced that its Ryndam and Statendam would be transferred to P&O Cruises Australia. Then MSC Cruises announced an order for two cruise ships of a new design from Fincantieri – this is in addition to the two ships it recently ordered from STX France. Costa Cruises Group announced what appears to be the end to its Spanish-based brand Iberocruceros, with its ships apparently now to be absorbed into Costa Cruises. And Saga Cruises will start taking allocations on certain Fred Olsen cruises. We also look at the potential for one or two of Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis class ships to go to either Europe or Asia and the Institute for Shipboard Education announces that it is this month withdrawing from shorter duration cruising.

FOR THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                                            (See previous columns)

Shipping Connections on the Royal Caribbean Cruises Board – And Carnival Corporation’s Costa Cruises Ups Its Chinese Participation

THE CRUISE EXAMINER at by Kevin Griffin

The Cruise Examiner for 19th May 2014..

Board of Directors - Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Board of Directors has good business links as well as a number with shipping backgrounds

During May, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd announced its most recent board re-elections, some of which are interesting in terms of their shipping connections. At the same time, Carnival Corporation & Plc revealed its latest contribution to the Chinese market, when it announced that the 3,004-berth Costa Serena would be moving to the Chinese market on a year-round basis in 2015. The stories follow here.

FOR THIS WEEK’S STORY                                                                                          (See previous columns)