Berlitz Guide to Cruising 2013 Now Available – Other Cruise News: What Goes at Classic International? – Reader Offers, Cruise Agent – Mistral Cruises in Croatia

by Kevin Griffin

The 28th edition of the “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” has just appeared in Kindle format and hard copies will be available from next Monday. We look at some of the updates to this year’s issue, which evaluates 284 cruise ships. Meanwhile, three out of the five-ship fleet of Classic International Cruises have been arrested in Marseilles and Kotor, while a fifth continues to trade for Ambiente Kreuzfahrten. We look at how one major cruise agent has been able to stand up to the P&O/Cunard UK commission cut to 5% and still see an increase in its profits. Finally, Mistral Cruises will be the new kid on the block in Croatia in 2014 with its 34-berth Mistral.


Berlitz Guide to Cruising 2013 Now Available

The latest issue of the “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” became available in Kindle and e-book format on September 15 and will be available in hard copy next week. This year, the Guide has expanded from 688 pages to 704, reviewing a total of 284 cruise ships.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2

In the year ahead we can look to three ships of new design, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2, coming from STX France, Norwegian Breakaway from Meyer Werft in Germany, and Royal Princess from Fincantieri in Italy, as well as matching sister ships for AIDA, Ponant and MSC.

This year, author Douglas Ward has added a comment on security at US ports. Homeland Security has been so bad at treating cruise passengers over the past couple of years, with significant delays being caused to P&O’s Arcadia, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa and Fred Olsen ships that one line, Fred Olsen, has decided not to send ships to the US any longer.

Balmoral - Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Balmoral - Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Indeed, since this news, Saga has made the same decision and both companies are this autumn operating North American cruises that call only on Canadian ports (and in the case of Saga, one cruise from Canada to Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba).
Fred Olsen’s 28-night Canadian cruise in the Balmoral left Southampton on September 5 and is today in Havre St Pierre, Quebec, one of eleven Canadian ports called at before her return to the UK.

Some small changes in the Guide are also noted, one being a sign of the times in that Ward has finally removed the reference to “plated service vs silver service.”
Where this section was now heads straight into a new paragraph on “self-service buffets,” where his words remain the same: “strangely, passengers don’t seem to mind lining up for self-service food (reminiscent of school lunches and army canteens) in scandalously overcrowded venues.”
Instead of silver service, Ward has added a comment on “seating arrangements.”

In the spa section, a new list presents the best spas, while in the expedition ship section, the list of ships is in need of an update, although new sections have been added to cover the Northwest Passage (where there will be three full transits and two local transits in 2013) and the Amazon above Manaus heading into Peru, where the port of Iquitos is about three-quarters of the way across the South American continent from the Atlantic.

In the summary section on the major cruise lines the headings have been changed from bold red bars to narrow grey bars, making it slightly more difficult to navigate, while Louis Cruises, now that it is down to two ships, has been moved out. However, the same “so what’s it really like” section summarises each line’sr good and bad aspects.

Louis has now been added to the smaller operators section, as have small ship operators Ambiente, Antarpply, Comodros (now Silversea’s Galapagos operation), FTI of Germany, Harmony Cruises, Oceanwide, One Ocean and Passat.

Meanwhile, on the ships themselves, the size brackets have been changed this year, which has moved some ships into a new bracket. Changes in the “Top 10” for each bracket are summarised below.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

Under Large Ships (now 1750+ berths instead of 1600+), Queen Mary 2’s Grill class keeps her the top spot, but Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria have dropped from places 2 and 3 to 6 and 7.
This is because rankings 2 to 5 are now taken up by the Celebrity Solstice class ships, and the Queens are followed by three of the Celebrity Millenium class, now “Solsticized.”
The Queens have fallen in ranking because where they were previously rated for their “Grill class” they are now measured on their overall ratings.

Crystal Serenity

Crystal Serenity

The Mid-size ship has gone from 600-1600 to 750-1750 berths, and here Oceania’s Riviera has knocked the Crystal Symphony out of place while Crystal Serenity has retained the number one spot.
Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner and Voyager have now left this classification, going to “Small Ships,” and this has opened up a couple of spots that have been taken up by P&O’s Adonia and Phoenix Reisen’s Artania in the Top 10.

The Small Ship category has been moved up from 200-600 berths to 251-700 berths, thus bringing the two largest Regent ships into this grouping. But the top spots in this category are taken by Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa (still the top-scoring ship in Berlitz) and eight ships from Seabourn and Silversea.

Seadream I in London

Seadream I in London

The Boutique category has gone from 50-200 berths up to 50-250 berths and includes the SeaDream duo, the original Seabourn trio (which last year fell into Small Ships), plus Hapag-Lloyd’s Hanseatic, the two Sea Clouds, Silver Explorer and Hebridean Princess. Orion, Island Sky and Bremen have been knocked out of the Top 10 by the arrival of the Seabourn trio.



All in all, still the Bible of the cruise ship guides, it is interesting to see that Berlitz has still not sorted out its disagreement with Peter Deilmann over the rating of the Deutschland, and almost fifteen years after her introduction that ship is still listed as “Not Yet Rated.”
Presumably, the German-flag ship will not allow a Berlitz inspector on board (she was given a four-star-plus rating and a score of 1656 out of 2000 in the 1999 guide but was not listed at all in 2000, to reappear as “Not Yet Rated” a few years later).

The “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships” is available for pre-order from for £12.59 (regular £17.99) with free delivery and for purchase from the Amazon Kindle store for £14.82. In North America it is available from for $15.17 (regular $24.99) and the Kindle edition for $24.03.

The 2013 Guide will also be available for purchase from other reliable booksellers from Monday, October 1.


What Goes at Classic International?

Athena - Ex Valtur Prima, ex Italia Prima, ex Caribe

Athena - Ex Valtur Prima, ex Italia Prima, ex Caribe

Most people know Classic International Cruises as the creation of Lisbon-based expatriate Greek shipowner George Potamianos, who died this May and has since then been succeeded by his twin sons Alexandros and Emilios.
But on the weekend before last, three of Classic International Cruises’ fleet were arrested, the 556-berth Athena (1946) and 568-berth Princess Danae (1955) at Marseilles and the 334-berth Arion (1965) at Kotor, all for unpaid bunker bills and other debts said to include back wages.

Princess Danae

Princess Danae

According to the “Ship & Bunker” web site, the firm has been financed for several years by Portuguese bank Montepio, which has now stated that it will not fund any further operations of and will not to see the company through to the end of this season.

Classic International operates under several names, including Arcalia Shipping, World Cruises Agency and Great Warwick Inc, among others.

Shortly after this news broke, Grant Hunter, managing director of Classic International Cruises’ Australian branch, was quoted as saying: “Athena’s shipowners and the bank are working on a major restructure which is expected to be finalised within 5-7 days. The owners have advised that Athena will operate her full Australian season as planned, beginning on November 12, 2012, in two month’s time. The ship has now entered a scheduled drydocking period in Marseille.”

This statement completely ignores the fact that All Ways Travel of Belgium had a charter on the Athena and had flown passengers in to Marseilles for a cruise that was due to sail last Monday. Once informed that the ship had been arrested, All Ways took immediate steps to fly its clients back home to Belgium.

Recent news reports have also missed the fact that a fourth Classic International ship, the 479-berth Princess Daphne (1955), has continued to operate on schedule for Germany’s Ambiente Kreuzfahrten. Leaving Puerto del Rosario in the early hours of Thursday, September 20, she made her planned call at Arrecife the same day and then left Casablanca on Saturday, September 22, for Malaga, where she was due this morning.

That three ships have been arrested while the fourth continued to sail seemed to indicate that some sort of arrangement had been made as far as the Princess Daphne is concerned. After anchoring off Malaga this morning, the Princess Daphne sailed at 12:46, headed east southeast, and was last seen off Torre del Mar steaming at 14? knots on a course of 100 degrees, her destination Ibiza. So will she finish her present voyage without arrest? The Ambiente web site continues to operate, listing her next cruise as a Black Sea sailing from Istanbul on October 6.

Funchal - Photo D.R.Carneiro

Funchal - Photo D.R.Carneiro

As well as the planned Australian season for the Athena, Ambiente has charters on Athena and Princess Daphne for next summer, but whether any of these cruises go ahead will depend on whether financing is put into place for the ongoing operation of Classic International Cruises.
A fifth fleet member, the 430-berth Funchal (1961), has been in Lisbon for some months now undergoing what is supposed to be a refit to bring her into compliance with the latest SOLAS standards.

Reader Offers, Cruise Agent

Most readers of British newspapers will be familiar with full-page and two-page cruise advertisements from a company called Reader Offers Ltd, but most will not be aware that this company is actually a travel agent and not a department of the newspaper they are reading.
Such “reader offers” are a big part of the business not only in the UK, but also in Germany and other European countries, and play a big role in cruise sales.

In point of fact, this is how companies such as Reader Offers earn their revenue, by working with newspapers to generate their business – a medium that may seem old-fashioned in this digital age but in fact still produces volumes of business. And in fact Reader Offers now operates its own cruise web site.

This company is not insignificant in the world of UK cruise sales. It was incorporated in 1995, but most of its growth has occurred in the dozen years since 2005. It has four directors, of whom Peter Beadles is chairman and Jeremy Dickinson managing director. The business had a turnover of £42.4 million in 2011-12 and assets of £58.7 million and liabilities of £54.7 million. Last year, it paid £4.6 million in salaries and £800,000 in dividends and its current net worth is reported as £8.1 million.

But what is most interesting about Reader Offers of recent is that when Carnival UK (P&O, Princess and Cunard Line) cut their commission levels from 15% to 5%, it chose to stop actively promoting those lines and instead forge strong partnerships with other lines.

In an interview in Travel Weekly UK earlier this month, Dickinson revealed that business booked with Carnival UK had dropped from 45% of the company’s business to just 7% now. But more interesting was the fact that Reader Offers’ profits had gone up from £1.33 million in 2010-11 to £2.15 million last year, for a rise of over 60% on turnover that was reportedly 7% lower.

In a market such as the UK, where many travel agents are not very professional, Dickinson’s conclusion was more than professional. He told Travel Weekly that “discounting doesn’t sell any more holidays for the cruise lines, it just moves it around among agents who have no other message – anyone can sell £1 for 90p.”
By discounting, of course, he meant rebating from commission to “buy” the business.

Here is a company that does not feel that it has to buy its business from its customers by giving away most of its commission. It has been noticeable over past years that the fares that Reader Offers has quoted in its newspaper advertisements were never so ridiculously low that other agents could not compete with them. It is interesting as well that Reader Offers is one of several companies that have not rolled over for Carnival UK.

Indeed, Reader Offers is to be credited with having managed to increase their profits while standing up to and walking away from a so-called market leader.

Mistral Cruises in Croatia

Andrea ex Harald Jarl - To became Premier Cruises' Serenissima in 2013

Andrea ex Harald Jarl - To became Premier Cruises' Serenissima in 2013

Just arrived this morning is a brochure for a new operator called Mistral Cruises, outlining a series of Dalmatian Coast cruises to be operated by the 34-berth Mistral between March and October 2014. In some ways, these cruises will replace those that were operated until 2009 by Elegant Cruises using the 60–berth Monet and 106–berth Andrea, which is about to become the Serenissima for Premier Cruises of Finland.

The Mistral’s seven-day itineraries will alternate between Venice and Dubrovnik with calls en route at Rab Island, Trogir, Split, Vis Island, Hvar, Ploce (for Mostar), Korcula, Kotor and Cavtat. Fares will start at $2,990 plus $280 in port fees and taxes.
The ship is presently trading in the Aegean as the Callisto for Travel Dynamics International, and, as it happens, Mistral Cruises is located at the same address at 132 East 70th Street in New York.

(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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