Olsen’s Black Watch – Major Refurbishment

October 24, 2016

Boudicca, Black Watch’s identical sister

Good news for small ship lovers:

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ 804-guest Black Watch will be entering dry dock at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany in November 2016, in preparation for the forthcoming 2017/18 cruise season. The ship will undergo various engineering works, general maintenance and refurbishment during the dry dock, as well as the creation of several new public areas and guest facilities, as part of a multi-million Pound investment.

Black Watch will depart from Tilbury, UK for Hamburg on 18th November 2016, following a seven-night ‘European Cities & Waterways’ cruise. Work on the dry dock is expected to start at Blohm + Voss on 20th November 2016.

Mike Rodwell, Managing Director of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, said: “Black Watch is one of Fred. Olsen’s most popular cruise ships, and it is important that she always looks her best. During her 26-day dry dock in Hamburg, as well as the usual maritime inspections and maintenance work, we will also be undertaking major upgrades to the cabins and public areas throughout the ship, to ensure that we continue to provide the best facilities possible to meet our guests’ expectations.

“Our significant investment in refurbishing and upgrading Black Watch will ensure that our guests will be able to enjoy her classic looks and unique, intimate ambience for many years to come.”

A key focus of Black Watch’s refurbishment will be the 423 cabins across the ship, on Marquee Deck 9, Bridge Deck 8, Lido Deck 7, Main Deck 5, Atlantic Deck 4, and Marina Deck 3. A new interactive in-cabin TV system will be installed across the ship, equipped with all the latest features and connectivity. Bathrooms will be refurbished, and all cabins will feature safes and mini-bars, as standard.

During the dry dock, Black Watch’s Braemar Garden Café, on Lounge Deck 6, will be converted into a new restaurant, to be called ‘Brigadoon’, in keeping with Fred. Olsen’s close Scottish connections. The new restaurant will feature modern new décor and will offer a stylish, intimate dining experience, for up to 54 guests – continuing to serve the wide range of British and international cuisine for which Fred. Olsen is renowned.


The Braemar Courtyard, on Lounge Deck 6, will be converted into a separate speciality dining area, called ‘The Black Watch Room’, offering an à la carte dining experience, including expertly-prepared steaks cooked to order, with seating for up to 46 guests. A new dedicated Galley will be created to service this new dining facility. The existing Grill restaurant, situated on Lounge Deck 6 aft, by the main pool area, will be rebranded and redesigned, to offer a new Mediterranean-themed dining experience.

Black Watch’s main 340-guest restaurant, The Glentanar, on Lounge Deck 6, will undergo extensive refurbishment, with a spacious new layout and ‘new look’, featuring new furniture, carpet and curtains.

Considerable attention will also be given to the various bar areas on board Black Watch during the dry dock. The Observatory Lounge, on Marquee Deck 9, will receive a refresh to the décor and fittings, and the Lido Lounge, on Lido Deck 7, will receive an extensive overhaul, with new furniture, fabrics and carpets being fitted throughout, as well as the installation of a full-width sliding door to the aft.

The Morning Light Pub – an iconic feature across the whole Fred. Olsen fleet – will be moved to the area currently occupied by the Braemar Lounge, on Lounge Deck 6, replacing the existing Pub next to the Neptune Show Lounge. New furniture and fabrics will be a key feature of the larger, more spacious Pub, along with a new bar. The area vacated by the existing Morning Light Pub will be renamed the ‘Neptune Bar’.

To enhance the on-board experience for guests, the Marina Cinema on Marina Deck 3 will be upgraded with the latest ‘3D’ technology, enabling the Black Watch team to show 3D films and other programmes.

Black Watch’s Guest Services area, on Main Deck 5 – the focal point and ‘hub’ of the ship – will also be renewed, making it more inviting and user-friendly for guests.

Similar refurbishments and upgrades are expected to the rest of the Fred. Olsen fleet – Balmoral, Braemar and Boudicca – in the coming years.

Following Black Watch’s dry dock, the ship will recommence her cruise season from Tilbury, UK, with a seven-night ‘German & Danish Christmas Markets’ cruise, departing on 15th December 2016.
During the 2017/18 cruise season, Fred. Olsen’s fleet of four smaller, more intimate ships will be visiting no fewer than 220 destinations in 70 countries around the globe.

(Fred Olsen)

Malcolm says: It’s great to see a ship that was built in 1972, undergoing a major investment. If you are wondering ‘why’ they are spending so much money on such an old ship, it’s because she and her fleet mates offer a friendly and intimate experience that today’s mega-ships simply cannot match.

Black watch is one of my favourites. She is of course a dying bread of small ship (28,613 gt) operating form UK ports.  As P&O and others have shed their smaller tonnage, to be replaced by mega-ships, Olsen continues to offer an experience on a human-scale, at a reasonable price.

I assume the new lounges and bars are designed to increase the on-board food and drink sales. However that’s the name of the game, as cruise fares remain constant or even fall in an ever competitive market place.

I am really pleased that they are retaining the ‘Marina Cinema’ and upgrading it to 3D.  Most older ships originally had dedicated Cinemas, but they were often converted in to bars/lounges or cabins. In fact there was once plans to covert Black Watch’s into six inside cabins.  I’m pleased that Fred changed his mind.

Black Watch Review HERE

Hurtigruten Names New Ships

October 24, 2016

Hurtigruten has named its two new hybrid powered expedition ships.

The first two ships have been named the Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen after the two Norwegian polar explorers.  The ships are due to be delivered in 2018 and 2019.

“On December 14th, it will be exactly 105 years since Roald Amundsen became the first person in the world to plant his flag on the South Pole,” said Daniel Skjeldam, CEO, Hurtigruten. “It has been 128 years since Fridtjof Nansen skied across Greenland and it is 120 years since Richard With, Hurtigruten’s founder, first started exploration tourism in the Arctic. So what could be more natural and appropriate than to name our new ships after these inspiring trailblazers.”

The new ships are designed by Rolls-Royce, in collaboration with the Norwegian yacht designer Espen Øino.

The interiors will mirror the exterior waters and landscapes.

Six out of ten cabins will have their own balcony; two out of ten will be suites.

The vessels will have three restaurants with menus reflecting local flavours and destinations. A special pool deck will include infinity pools, Jacuzzis and bars.


The Next P&O/Carnival Megaships: The World’s Most Crowded?

October 22, 2016

Back to the subject of VERY BIG ships:

Carnival has announced that they have ordered seven 180,000 gross ton mega-ships from the German ship builder Meyer Werft: two for Costa, two for Carnival, two for AIDA and one for P&O between 2019 and 2022.

Each ship will accommodate 5,200 passengers double occupancy and up to a maximum of 6,600 passengers, which is a world record.

Carnival’s new ships won’t be the largest by size (gross tonnes/volume), as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships at around 225,000 gross tons still wear that crown. However they could be called the biggest by passenger capacity.  The new Carnival mega-ships will carry up to 300 passengers more than the ‘Oasis of the Seas’, yet are smaller.

Carnival were obviously well aware that their initial press release might attract some media criticism (see here) regarding the high passenger capacity. Therefore they were careful to state that they will be: “making much more efficient use of the ship’s spaces”.

Too crowded?

The big question is: Will these be the most crowded cruise ships in the world?

Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison, who has been involved with the design process, said that the space ratio on the new vessels is the same as most of the existing ships in the AIDA and Carnival Cruise Line fleets.


We need to do a little math(s) to check if Micky is right.

There are a number of factors which determine how crowded a ship is and/or feels. This includes the ship design which hopefully allows for a good passenger flow, without too many bottle-necks. However passenger-flow cannot be easily measured, it has to be ‘experienced’.

A quantifiable gauge is to compare the space available per-passenger, on-board Carnival’s new mega-ships, then compare the figures with some other big mass-market* ships. Although this will not reveal the whole story about how a ship feels,  it is a reasonably good measure.

The Math

Space per passenger can be calculated by dividing the ships gross tonnage (a measurement of volume) by the passenger capacity, to get a passenger-to-space ratio. So in the case of Oasis it’s 225,000 gt/ 6,296 (maximum occupancy) and you get a figure of 35. This represents 35 gt of space per passenger.

RCI’s ‘Quantum’ class ships have a similar ratio to ‘Oasis’ at 34.


Oasis on the far right dwarfing Carnival, Disney and MSC ships. (Click to enlarge)

We do know that the new Carnival ships will be around 180,000 gt, which is 20% smaller (approx. 45 gt) than RCI’s  ‘Oasis’ class. However the Carnival ships will carry a maximum of 6,600 passengers. That’s 304 more passengers than ‘Oasis of the Seas’, to be precise. If we calculate the ratio we get 27, which clearly means less room per-passenger, than on-board the Oasis and Quantum classes.

Let’s have a look at the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, ‘Escape’ (2015). At 164,600gt and carries a maximum of 5,400 passengers, she has passenger-to-space ratio of 30. So less generous than Oasis, but only slightly better than the Carnival new builds.

Carnival’s latest ship, ‘Vista’ (2015) is 133,500gt and carries a maximum of 4,683 passengers. That gives us a ratio of 28, only one point more than there 180,000gt new-builds.

The latest Costa ship ‘Costa Diadema’ (2014) is 132,500gt and carries a maximum of 4,947 passengers. This gives us a ratio of 27. (The same as the 180,00gt newbuilds).

The statistics available about AIDA fleets maximum passenger capacity are a little vague. Only the double occupancy figures are generally available. However if I am correctly informed, AIDAstella and AIDAmar appear to have a passenger to space ratio of 26. (Fractionally less than the 180,00get newbuilds)

Costa 180,000gt ship (Courtesy Carnival)

Costa 180,000gt ship (Courtesy Carnival)

In Conclusion, the media and many commentators have simply picked up on the figure “6,600 passengers” and have assumed that the Carnival new-build megaships will be the most crowded ships ever built. This is simply not true.

Micky Arison is correct; there are many ships in service out there, with passenger-to-space ratios of 27 or lower. These do includes Carnival, AIDA and Costa ships.

However I am told that Carnival have sales policy which involves doing their best to sell every berth. For example, I believe they will not sell a 3-4 berth cabin to a couple, if they can avoid it. I’m told that some other cruise lines impose this rule far less rigorously. Therefore it is said that Carnival ships often sail fuller than the industry standard of 104%.

If the above is true, these new mega-ships are bound to feel busier. A quiet corner to read a book will not be so easy to find. However the on-board passenger density will not be unique in the mass-market (or budget) cruise industry and should not feel unbearable. Carnival are very unlikely to sell every berth, every cruise.

It will be interesting to see if Carnival really can ““make more efficient use of the ship’s spaces” to benefit the passenger experience, or is that just sales talk?


(*Premium and Luxury ships, even big ones, always offer more space per-passenger.)

Oasis Review: HERE

Astor’s Return Voyage To Australia sells-out

October 21, 2016

All of the cabins were sold on-board Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ Astor before she left Tilbury on Sunday 16th of October 2016. She embarked on her 54-night sailing to Fremantle, Australia.

Astor, under the command of Captain Emmanouil Psarrakis who has brought the ship to Australia for her three previous summer seasons, arrives in Fremantle on December 9.

At 20,606 gross tonnes and carrying just 600 passengers, she offers a very intimate experience when compared to many of today’s mega-ships.

She was built in 1987 under the name Astor in Kiel, West Germany, as a combined ocean liner/cruise ship for the Southampton-cape town route.

Following the success of her 2015 voyage from London to Fremantle via the Panama Canal which sold out in nine weeks, Astor is heading for the Panama Canal again and then Mexico, French Polynesia, Auckland, Sydney, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.

She will depart Fremantle on March 15 on her 39-night re-positioning voyage to the UK.


Here is my extensive Astor SHIP REVIEW

(Reviews of the rest of the CMV fleet: Marco Polo, Magellan and Astoria are also available menu right).

Harmony Of The Seas By Numbers

October 20, 2016

Royal Caribbean’s latest video release.

Thomson Cruises – Three Ships In The Caribbean

October 20, 2016
(Thomson Celebration)

(Thomson Celebration)

Thomson Cruises has announced it will deploy three ships to the Caribbean for the 2017-2018 cruise season.

In winter 2017 Thomson Cruises will have three ships based in the Caribbean.

The Thomson Celebration will move to a new homeport La Romana in the Dominican Republic, the TUI Discovery will be based in Bridgetown, Barbados and the TUI Discovery 2 will sail from Montego Bay, Jamaica.


STOP PRESS: Thomson Cruises is actively considering entering Asia as its fleet expands and parent company Tui introduces more long range Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Thomson Celebration review: HERE

Virgin Voyages

October 19, 2016

“Virgin Cruises” has officially become “Virgin Voyages.”

The name change was made to reflect that a journey aboard a Virgin ship will be more than just a cruise; it will be transformative, Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin said.

“It should be a departure from the ordinary getaway,” McAlpin told the media.

The company also announced it has signed a shipbuilding contract with Fincantieri, which will build all three of the ships to debut between 2020 and 2022. The three vessels will be identical, coming in at 110,000 tons and holding 2,700 passengers. The first will sail out of Miami, while the homeports for the other two have yet to be announced.

McAlpin said ship delivery is on pace, and steel-cutting — the first step in ship construction — for the first ship will take place early next year. The keel-laying, when the ship’s first block is set in place, is scheduled for late 2017.


Virgin Voyages also announced a multimillion-dollar partnership with Swedish clean-energy company Climeon. Virgin will install Climeon Ocean, a system that will to turn waste into clean electricity, thereby reducing carbon footprint, on all three ships. According to Virgin, the system will eliminate about 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide per ship per year.

“Transforming hot water to electricity will be a major source of energy production going forward,” said Thomas Ostrom, founder and CEO of Climeon, which has done work on ferries.

Virgin will “usher in what I call a sea change to the industry,” McAlpin said.



Virgin’s vision of a voyage.

Malcolm Says:

Externally the ship rendering looks unique – rather like an Art Deco railway train , which I fully approve of.

However these are all just concepts/renderings. There are no guarantees that the ships will look much like any of the renderings, when they are finally constructed. The offices of marine architects must be full of drawings of unfulfilled concepts. I guess that the final design of the ships will probably be less Art deco and more conventional.

So three mid-sized ships and a 7 night itinerary from Miami to the Caribbean – it is hardly ground-breaking, is it? However this will allow ‘Virgin Cruises’ to have synergies with ‘Virgin Atlantic’, Branson’s airline.

Branson is a great entrepreneur, but I wonder what the Virgin brand can bring to cruising that is genuinely new? I don’t doubt that the product will be well marketed and probably aimed at a younger clientele. We can also expect the entertainment and technology on-board to be impressive, after all Virgin started as a record label and diversified into communication and travel.

The problem is that the competition: Royal Caribbean, the Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival etc. already offer some very Hi-Tech ships aimed at the multigenerational family market. MSC, Costa and Genting/Star  also have some very impressive ships on order.

It will be a tough market to crack, but virgin has a well established infrastructure.


Travelweekly Tom McAlpin Interview HERE

World’s Biggest Sailing Vessel

October 17, 2016
(Image courtesy of the Daily Mail)

(Image courtesy of the Daily Mail)

A £330million superyacht owned by a Russian billionaire is thought to be the largest sailing vessel to ever take to the seas after it underwent its first official sailing test.

It’s cruising speed is 18mph and it has a top speed of 24mph. The hull is made of steel, with a teak-finish deck.

Read full Daily mail on-line article HERE

It’s Not All About Mega-Ships

October 16, 2016

Azores, Liverpool, Aug 2015.

Most of the cruise news these days is about very big new ships. They generate their own publicity. There is an assumption that if they are the biggest, they must be the best!

However some of the worlds best cruise experiences are to be found on considerably smaller cruise ships. However you will not generally find these ships grabbing the maritime headlines.

Contrary to popular misconception, not all small ship offer expensive cruises. Cruise and maritime Voyages (CMV) and Fred Olsen are living proof.

Last year I took a mini-cruise on-board ‘Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ MV Astoria (called ‘Azores’ at the time).

Astoria s was one of the smallest cruise ships operating regularly from UK ports, such as Bristol and Liverpool. She’s certainly the smallest cruise ship that I have ever cruised on.

However Astoria sadly leaves the CMV fleet spring, 2017.

Astoria, is around 16,000 gross tonnes. For comparison this makes ‘Oasis of the Seas’ @ 220,000 gt, fourteen times bigger than Astoria.

Astoria carries just 555 passengers, whereas Oasis carries 6,000+ passengers. In fact each of Oasis’s lifeboats carries 300 passengers.

(Courtesy cruise-ships.com)

Astoria top, Oasis below (Courtesy cruise-ships.com)

Astoria also has a very long history, being one of the oldest ocean cruise ships still in operation, in the world. She is currently 68 years old. She’s also in very good condition.

See Full Astoria Review Here

Fred’s small ships:  I have had the pleasure of cruising on-board all of the current Fred Olsen fleet:

Black Watch (1972) review: HERE

Boudicca (1972) review:       HERE

Balmoral (1988) review:       HERE

Braemar (1993) review:        HERE

Norwegian Bliss to Homeport in Seattle

October 14, 2016
(All images courtesy NCL)

(All images courtesy NCL)

The Port of Seattle and Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that the Norwegian Bliss will homeport in Seattle beginning in 2018 when the ship is delivered.

The ship is a‘Breakaway Plus’ class at approximately 167,800 gross tons and accommodating 4,000 guests. She will be constructed at Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany.

The Port of Seattle also said it will have its biggest cruise year ever in 2017, expecting over one million revenue passengers through its cruise terminals.

“The Port of Seattle is proud to partner with Norwegian Cruise Line as we work to bring people from around the world to see Alaska,” said Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick.


“Norwegian was the first line to begin cruising to Alaska from Seattle in 2000 and it’s only fitting that we bring our newest ship, Norwegian Bliss, directly to this incredible location,” said Andy Stuart, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. “Alaska is one of the top destinations for our guests to explore and we are thrilled to be the first cruise line to offer guests the opportunity to experience this coveted destination on a brand new, state-of-the-art cruise ship from Seattle.”

The Norwegian Bliss will sail weekly seven-day Alaskan cruises from Pier 66 in Seattle. The ship’s itinerary will feature calls in Ketchikan, Juno, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, along with scenic glacier cruising.


Norwegian has also announced that marine wildlife artist Wyland has been commissioned to design the hull artwork for Norwegian Bliss.


Genting Dream Delivered

(Courtesy Genting)

(Courtesy Genting)

October 12, 2016: In Bremerhaven, Meyer Werft handed over the new Genting Dream to Genting Hong Kong’s Dream Cruises.

It is the first new ship to be built specifically for the Asian market in over 15 years.

Dream is based on the Norwegian Cruise Lines ‘Breakaway’ design.


(Reviews of NCL ships, menu right)