The New All-Inclusive Crystal (Crystal Serenity Part 2) – Other Cruise News: Viking Plans Six-Ship Ocean Fleet – Viking River Orders Ten More Longships

by Kevin Griffin

This week, The Cruise Examiner, having disembarked yesterday from the Crystal Serenity in Barcelona, brings us Part 2 of his report on the new all-inclusive Crystal Cruises. Elsewhere, Viking attracted all the attention last week with an agreement for Viking Ocean Cruises to build two 944-berth ocean cruise ships at Fincantieri, with an option for two more. This could bring its new fleet of ocean cruisers to six ships by 2020. Sister line Viking River Cruises meanwhile surprised all with an order for a further ten new Viking Longship class river cruisers. These will be built by Neptun Werft, a 162-year-old Rostock-based shipyard that has built over 1,500 ships in its long history, including a few U-Boats.

THIS WEEK’S STORY

The New All-Inclusive Crystal (Crystal Serenity Part 2)

Last week The Cruise Examiner gave you his inital views on an all-inclusive cruise on Crystal Cruises, six months after the introduction of this new arrangement. This week, after having disembarked from Crystal Serenity in Barcelona yesterday, he can confirm that the new system is a real winner.

Crystal Serenity

Crystal Serenity

No more huge invoices for on board spend. The bill at the end of this cruise was actually nil (well, except for the $300 Internet charges, one of the highest at sea). Compared to typical bills for $1,000/1,500 in the past (always a surprise when it was slipped under the door), this goes to show the value of the new all-inclusive fares.

One might well be aware how on many cruise ships today the waiter always knows the right question to ask in order to get you to order the $14 glass instead of the $8 one. Well, that is now all in the past at Crystal, so you can sit back and relax without, as mentioned last week, having to be on your guard. Now, for the rest of this review.

Last week, we said we would leave the food until this week, but instead let’s talk about the wines. I want to do this because until the eighth day of the voyage I had not laid my eyes on the inclusive wine list. This selection includes an excellent choice of twelve red wines and nine whites. Of the dozen reds, five are from the US, three from France and one each from Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Austria. And of the nine whites, four are from France, three from the US and one each from Italy and Austria.

A brief breakdown of the inclusive wines follows:

Red Wines
From the USA: Crystal “C” Cabernet Sauvigon, Crystal “C” Merlot and Crystal “C” Pinot Noir, all from California; a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Sauvigon and Merlot blend from Washington state.
From France: Cotes du Rhone (Burgundy); St Emilion (Bordeaux) and a Languedoc. From Portugal: La Revolta (Douro Valley).
From Spain: Monsant.
From South Africa: L’Avenir Stellenbosch.
From Austria: Blend II, Ilmitz, Kracher Burgenland. The Revolta from the Douro Valley was by far rthe best choice of these wines and is apparently the favourite of the sommeliers.

White Wines
From France: Chablis (Burgundy); Chardonnay (Burgundy); Graves (Bordeaux); Bertrand (Vin de Pays d’Oc).
From the USA: Beringer Chardonnay; Crystal “C” Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, all from California.
From Italy: Pinot Grigio.
From Austria: Gruner Veltliner.

The other best parts of the cruise were:

1. The new deck furniture installed around the main Seahorse Pool in the 2011 refit allowed us to take advantage of the last of this year’s summer sun. The combination of wickers sofas and chairs, cushions, full-length loungers and blankets that replaced the previous rows of tables and chairs made the pool area so comfortable on sunny days that we did not even go ashore in the last two Spanish ports of call, taking advantage instead of the uncrowded ship while others were ashore.
Even though it might have been 15 or 16 degrees Celsius ashore, with a wind, this area is warm, sunny and sheltered, and now most comfortable as well.

2. The waiter service at Tastes around the Trident Pool produces the best of two worlds – tasty meals, served to you on the outside decks. We are not people to go to buffets, where one has to “serve oneself,” even on ships where waiters take the tray at the end of the line, so this arrangement is perfect. Not only that, but the combination of Tastes with the Grill works very well indeed.
After Tastes closes at 3 pm, the Grill carries on offering grilled sandwiches, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, chilli and hot dogs and fruits and salads. Sometimes, Tastes is also open for dinner.

3. Last but not least is the superb level of service offered by Crystal’s shipboard staff. Nothing is ever too much to ask and response is superb. Nothing is a problem for these people, who are always smiling and who really seem to enjioy their jobs.

All in all, the included wines, the large veranda on our penthouse, the new and very comfortable deck furniture at the Seahorse Pool and the served area at Tastes restaurant all served to make this cruise most relaxing indeed.

OTHER CRUISE NEWS

Viking Plans Six-Ship Ocean Fleet

Almost a year ago, The Cruise Examiner reported that Viking Ocean Cruises had placed a tentative order with STX France at St Nazaire for two 41,000-ton 888-berth ocean cruise ships of a new design. Then this April, after the necessary export financing was not forthcoming from French sources, we revealed that the order had been switched to Fincantieri and that the size of the ships had been upped to 998 berths and 45,000 tons. These two ships are scheduled for delivery in early 2015 and 2016.

The latest news arrived last week as a further agreement was reached for the construction of two more ocean cruise ships, with an option for two more to follow. The new ships will be sisters to those ordered earlier this year, although there is a question of there possibly being two designs built on the same platform.

Although the same design might be completed with an Ice Class hull, that would entail extra expense, so it will probably be more a difference in layout rather than construction. Whatever the case, the gross tonnage for the third through sixth ship seems to have risen to 48,000 tons while the number of berths has dropped to 944.

Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Ocean Cruises and once chief executive officer of Royal Viking Line, which used to describe its brochures as “Atlases,” commented as follows: “This additional order indicates just how strong early response has been to our ocean cruise concept, which focuses on small ship destination cruising at a great value. We are very excited to have Fincantieri as a partner as we work to bring the destination back to ocean cruising.”

We will be watching these developments with a great deal of interest, especially as they seem to fit into the bracket defined by Azamara Club Cruises and also Oceania Cruises, with the latter’s newbuildings having taken the 30,277-ton 684-berth level established by the “R” ships up to 66,000 tons and 1,250 berths, i.e. twice the size but offering the same product.

The other products in this bracket, i.e. Crystal, Hapag-Lloyd, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea, all tend to be ultra-luxury rather than emphasizing “small ship destination cruising at a great value” as Torstein Hagen has done.

If this trend continues as it will reflect an active “push back” against the economies of scale and size economics that the majors such as Carnival Corp & plc, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises have been emphasizing.

Two other lines that were once in this smaller-ship bracket have meanwhile have moved up now to the larger ship sizes. Celebrity Cruises, which started with the 1,350-berth 46,800-ton Horizon and Zenith, is now weighing in at 121,878 tons and 2,850 berths with its Celebrity Solstice class. And Holland America Line has moved beyond the 55,000-ton 1,260-berth Statendam class on the 1990s to the 86,273 tons and 2,106 berths with its Nieuw Amsterdam. This will rise to 2,660 berths with its latest newbuilding scheduled for delivery in Autumn 2015.

Viking River Orders Ten More Longships

Viking was not shy of hogging the news last week, as on Thursday came further news of an order for affiliate Viking River Cruises for ten more 1190-berth Viking Longship river cruisers.

Viking Longship Freya in Cologne - Photo Viking River Cruises

Viking Longship Freya in Cologne - Photo Viking River Cruises

The new ships will be built by Neptun Werft shipyard in Rostock, Germany, and will bring the number of new river cruise vessels to be delivered to Viking to ten in 2013 and eight in 2014 (two sets of four each were also delivered in 2012). And options have been signed for a further eight, for delivery in Spring 2015.

Neptun Werft was founded in 1850 and, among other things, produced U-Boats during the Second World War. It has built over 1,500 ships over its long history and was acquired by cruise ship builder Meyer Werft fifteen years ago now.

In commenting on the latest new orders, Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking River Cruises, said, “The river cruise segment is rapidly growing, as more travellers are inspired to experience old destinations in a new way. Because of the overwhelmingly positive response we have seen from our passengers in the first season of our revolutionary new Viking Longships, we are pleased to continue our expansion to meet that demand.”

The new vessels are designed to operate on the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube, and also in Dutch waters. Four of the vessels to be delivered in 2014 will operate on the Rhône. They will have a length of 443 feet, a beam of 38 feet and a draft of 5’3″ and will be powered by diesel-electric propulsion.

They will accommodate 190 passengers in 95 cabins, divided into two explorer suites, seven veranda suites, 39 veranda cabins, 22 cabins with French balcony and 25 standard staterooms. The crew will be accommodated in 31 cabins.

In the fore part of these vessels, the Aquavit Terrace, comprises an open-air terrace and a Winter Garden, which are joined to the lounge by large sliding glass doors. The ships also offer a spacious restaurant, a library, boutique and café, as well as a lift, which is not a standard feature of river vessels. On the sun deck a large glass element features above the entrance area to provide daylight.

Further features are a hotel-like private herb garden and solar panels that will generate electricity for the ship’s power supply.

(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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