Enrichment Voyages’ Explorer Comes to Europe – Other Cruise News: A Closer Look at Europa 2 – UK Lines: We Won’t Take Advantage Of You Any More

by Kevin Griffin

Semester at Sea’s Explorer is today en route from Antwerp to Lisbon. As she will be spending a lot of time in Europe over the next year, we have a look at her operations. In addition to her academic voyages, next spring she will offer three Enrichment Voyages from Barcelona, Le Havre and Dover, cruises that can be booked by the general public. Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises visited London last week to preview its new Europa 2, due for delivery from STX France in April 2013. This ship has been designed for a younger but affluent audience and will feature quite a few interesting differences from today’s other cruise ships. Finally, we see that in an effort to boost early bookings cruise fare guarantees are beginning to take hold in the UK.

THIS WEEK’S STORY

Enrichment Voyages’ Explorer Comes to Europe

A ship unknown to most cruisers, Semester at Sea’s 24,318-ton Explorer, is presently doing the rounds in Europe, under sponsorship of the University of Virginia. Starting with a stop in Galway on August 31 and an overnight stay in Dublin on September 2, she spent September 5 to 8 in Southampton and the 10th-15th in Antwerp.Olympic Voyager currently Semester at Sea’s Explorer
Leaving Antwerp on Saturday, she is now en route to Lisbon, where she will stay from Wednesday till Friday, and Cadiz, from Sunday to Wednesday next week.

Something one will notice from these dates is how many nights are spent in port. In Europe this month she will have one overnight stay, three three-night stays and one five-night stay. And this will be followed by three-nights in each of Casablanca and Tema en route to Cape Town, where she will spend four nights before returning via South America to Fort Lauderdale, where the present cruise ends on December 7.

These longer stays allow the students on board to travel and learn more in depth about the locations they visit than a typical eight-hour cruise ship stay allows.

This itinerary is part of a 107–night cruise that started in Halifax on August 23, one of her longer voyages on which university students can earn credits towards their degrees by studying in foreign countries.

Port-to-port passengers are also free to join these cruises and special per diem fares are available for such transits, as for example Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale. Barcelona

The Explorer’s next such voyage will be a 106-night world cruise sailing from San Diego, California, on January 7, 2013, and calling at Hawaii, Yokohama, Kobe, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Rangoon, Cochin, Mauritius, Cape Town, Tema and Casablanca and finishing in Barcelona on April 25.

Next summer, on June 17, 2013, the Explorer will offer something she has not offered before, a 66–night round trip Mediterranean cruise from Southampton. Calling on Casablanca, Tunis, Alexandria, Istanbul, Piraeus, Marseilles, Livorno, Civitavecchia and Barcelona, this voyage will also include many three- and four-night stays at different ports of call.

While outside passengers can book these programs, the Explorer also offers a product called Enrichment Voyages, which are exploration cruises that are more generally available to the public. The next such voyage is a 25-night cruise that covers both Christmas and New Years.

Called “Origins and Empires,” it will start in Nassau on December 8 and make its way through the Panama Canal to San Diego, where it will finish on January 2, 2013. Ports of call include Montego Bay, Cartagena, Colon, a transit of the Panama Canal and then Guayaquil (Ecuador), Callao and Manta in Peru, Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Corinto (Nicaragua), Puerto Quetzal (Guatemala) and Cabo San Lucas.

Fares for this extended 25-night voyage start at $2,199 per person in an inside cabin and $2,999 in an outside cabin, plus port charges of $280.

Likely to be of more interest to Europeans are three spring cruises planned for 2013. These three Enrichment Voyages will board respectively in Barcelona, Le Havre and Dover:

April 26-May 11, 2013 (15 nights): Barcelona to Le Havre via Monte Carlo, Livorno (*), Cadiz (*), Casablanca (*) and Lisbon.

May 12-25, 2013 (13 nights): Le Havre (*) to Dover via Antwerp (*), Amsterdam (*), Leith, Belfast and Dublin (*).

May 25-June 16, 2013 (22 nights): Dover (*) to Southampton via Oslo (*), Stockholm (*), St Petersburg (2 nights), Riga, Copenhagen (*) and Hamburg (*).

(*) overnight stay

Fares for these voyages will be available shortly but the first two cruises are also being offered as a 30-night voyage between Barcelona to Dover, with fares from $2,599 per person in an inside cabin or $3,149 in an outside cabin, plus port charges of $280.

A limited number of sole occupancy cabins will also be available, with a single supplement of 50% above the base fare.

OTHER CRUISE NEWS

A Closer Look at Europa 2

Last Thursday, Julian Pfitzner, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ product manager for its 39,500-ton newbuilding Europa 2, visited London to preview its new ship, s now due to enter service in just over seven months.

Two of the first impressions he created were “Relaxed Luxury” and “Hideaway at Sea.” (See MS Europa 2 – Your Exclusive Hideaway At Sea video by Hapag Lloyd at Youtube.com)

This is something that is a little different from what is on offer in today’s cruise market, even from ultra-luxury operators. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises seem to be basing their marketing on the proper definition of that word: identifying a need in the market and designing a product to fulfil that need at the best price available.

Unlike her ultra-luxury fleetmate Europa, the world’s top-rated ship since she was introduced in 1999, Europa 2 will be aimed squarely at another audience – the affluent executive and professional classes still in work, younger in age and quite possibly with growing children.

The new ship’s dress code will therefore tend to be smart casual rather than strictly formal.

To reach this audience, the new ship’s operation will be quite different from others in the fleet. Her cruises, at least in the summer season in the Mediterranean, will be based on a 7-day cycle that can be extended to 14 or 21 days, as no itinerary will be repeated before three cruises have elapsed. In addition, to look after their children, nannies will be engaged on a ratio of one for every four children, something that will mean the crew size might vary from cruise to cruise.

And because of this and the need to house entertainers, although the ship has been designed to take up to 516 guests, it will be unlikely that her passenger load will ever top 480. There will also be seven “family” suites, adjoining paired verandah suites with doors between them.  What’s more, children up to the age of eleven will be carried free of charge as long as they occupy a suite with their parents.

The new ship’s itineraries will be based on ports that have plenty of air service and are easy to get in and out of – for example, in the Mediterranean, Barcelona, Monte Carlo (Nice) and Venice, in the Far East, Singapore and Hong Kong for winter cruises, and Dubai in the Middle East.

The Europa 2 will also introduce some new concepts. While she will have a magrodome, it will not be the usual cover over a pool deck but it will be two decks high.

And sixteen of her suites will be designated “Spa” suites, meaning not that they will be next to a spa but that each individual suite will be equipped with its own spa equipment – whirlpool tubs, rain showers and their own steam saunas.

All suites will have private balconies, making her only the third ship in the world to offer this feature (the other two are Regent’s Seven Sea Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager).

The minimum suite size will be 301 sq ft plus a 75 sq ft balcony, and the largest will be in excess of 1,000 sq ft.

An important thing about Europa 2 is that every cruise will cater to international passengers, i.e. both English- and German-speaking. This is unlike the present practice, which is to nominate several international cruises for each ship in the fleet.

By this means, it is aimed to increase the number of English-speaking passengers by four or five fold, from ten to twenty per international sailing now to fifty to eighty in three to five years’ time.

As to meals and drinks, there will be eight different restaurants to choose from and wines and spirits will be sold at prices that are cheaper than on shore, unlike virtually all other lines other than the all-inclusive ones. The usual practice on cruise ships has over the years moved away from duty free prices to charging full shore side hotel prices.

Hapag-Lloyd’s goal in this area is not to maximise on board revenue but to offer value and a good experience. Also, in the alternative restaurants, it will not be possible to book more than forty-eight hours in advance, giving all an opportunity to experience them whereas on some lines experienced old hands have tended to monopolise these spaces.
All in all, some interesting ideas are coming out of Hamburg.

UK Lines: We Won’t Take Advantage Of You Any More

On July 23, The Cruise Examiner mentioned that Cunard Line and P&O Cruises were introducing new “Vantage” early booking fares, whereby they guarantee to match any subsequent fare reductions by either on board credits or upgrades. The idea for these “Vantage” fares was taken from Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Early Saver” fares, introduced in North America in 2009.

As a result of this effort to improve early bookings, several other lines, including Fred Olsen with its “Price Pledge,” and Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery with their “Price Promise,” have either followed suit or announced that they already had such a plan in place.
The intent of all these pledges and promises is to try to increase early bookings and not have so many people waiting for a better deal, which has often happened in the past.

However you look at it though, until now these same cruise lines had been holding fares on early bookings even when they offered cheaper last-minute deals to others, so the new price pledges are tantamount to saying “we won’t take advantage of you – any more.”
But still, the consumer will be much better off with such pledges, even if the difference is not paid back in cash.

Nevertheless, it is worth reading your terms and conditions carefully. In the case of Cunard and P&O, for example, the deposit requirement has been doubled, which means that you will lose twice as much if you cancel before final payment date.

When Carnival introduced its own “Early Saver” fares three years ago, it also did so on the premise that deposits would no longer be refundable as they had been in the past. And cancellations seem to be becoming more frequent in this uncertain age we live in.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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