22/05/2015

Hot on the Forums: Would You Bare All at Sea?

naked life

Relaxing and trying something new are among the (many) things I love about cruising. But I was interested to discover thousands of passengers shed a lot more than their inhibitions when they step onboard.

According to altogether revealing research by the American Association for Nude Recreation, around 30,000 people a year board clothing-optional cruises, available on several lines. A “nakation” – the name the organization gives to vacationing au naturel – is apparently a real thing.

My initial thoughts are that it would certainly cut down on packing and excess baggage issues, aside from the need for a bit more sunscreen. And travel agencies offering nude cruise charters are quick to dispel common misconceptions. For example, in formal dining rooms and speciality restaurants passengers do dress up, in every sense (who knew?). And in answer to the question everyone wonders about: All seating areas are spread with towels.

Read on for more.

21/05/2015

Just Back From Cunard Queen Victoria: Remembering Lusitania

Commodore Rynd speaking at the service (photo: Mike Pickup)

On Friday May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed Cunard’s flagship Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, as the ship was en route to Liverpool from New York. The ship sank with the loss of 1,195 lives, which included three stowaways, 94 children and 31 infants. Nine-hundred bodies were never found.

The sinking was one of the great tragedies of World War I and the loss of so many American lives indirectly caused the U.S.A. to enter the war.

A century later on Thursday, May 7, 2015, Cunard’s Queen Victoria paid tribute to the tragedy during its seven-night ‘Lusitania Remembered’ voyage. A series of events in the Irish port of Cobh paid tribute to those who perished and those who survived.

Read on for more

21/05/2015

From our forums: The kindness of strangers

Woman and child on a ship deck

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to be going right and you’re ready to throw in the towel… and then someone you’ve never met does something kind that makes everything seem just that little bit better?

For one frantic mother on a cruise with her three children on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, a few small gestures from a stranger made all the difference.

Cruise Critic member jmrothermel, who signed her post Jacqui, was so appreciative of the actions of one of her fellow cruisers that she felt she needed to tell others about it, and wrote a post entitled “To the stranger currently onboard Quantum…

We have to admit, initially we thought the post was a “missed connections” personals ad, and it took a full reading to understand that it was a simple thank you to a kind stranger.

“I’m not sure who you are,” Jacqui said. “Actually, I don’t even know if you read Cruise Critic. What I do know is that I feel the need to acknowledge what an amazing person you are.”

Read on for more.

20/05/2015

Just back from Viking Star: Hits & misses

Viking Star Atrium

After putting river cruising firmly on the map, Viking Cruises launched a new effort last month: Its own ocean cruise line. The first new cruise line in over a decade, Viking Ocean Cruises also is the first line to launch with a brand-new, custom-designed and -built ship since Disney introduced Magic in the late 1990s.

The 930-passenger Viking Star, which underwent a series of shakedown cruises leading up to its christening in Bergen on May 17, is a ship that redefines affordable luxury in the marketplace. It’s luxuriously and sumptuously decorated, its crew is service oriented and well trained, and itineraries, which rarely repeat a port, are a perfect blend of destinations marquee and offbeat. Venues range from the superb Manfredi’s Italian restaurant to a best-in-cruise spa. There’s also its elegant sun deck, the kootchy-kootchy Torshavn nightclub, and its efficiently styled and larger-than-average staterooms (all of which come with balconies), among others.

Ultimately, however, what really distinguishes this new line — and its debut ship — is this: Viking has effectively transferred much of what really works for river cruising — a more value-added, inclusive experience — and brought it to the high seas. This means that passengers onboard Viking Star enjoy complimentary wine and beer with meals, free Wi-Fi, at least one free shore excursion in every port of call, where — and this is another standout of Viking’s Ocean product — immersive experiences are the focus.

And that’s what’s most interesting about cruising’s newest line: It feels like luxury, with a more moderate price tag. It’s the industry’s best oceangoing bang-for-the-buck cruise experience we’ve experienced.

With that in mind, here are our hits and very few misses.

Hits

Decor

Viking Star Explorer Lounge

Most passengers we’ve met onboard our two sailings agree that Viking Star is a beautiful ship. The style is eclectic Danish modern — very sleek and contemporary, but with vibrant colors, and lots of lovely touches. Intriguing collections of books dot bookshelves in public rooms. Shelves are also furnished with lovely art pieces (in particular, we love the gorgeous glass vases scattered throughout), antique artifacts, such as the ship models in the Explorer’s Lounge, and furniture throughout that’s both handsome and comfortable.

Read on for more

19/05/2015

Member review of the week: A taste of Britannia

P&O Cruises’ newest ship Britannia has been getting some fairly mixed reviews from Cruise Critic members since its launch in March.

However, for member Biscay Bay, the pluses far outweighed the minuses and she gave it a four star review.

Read on to find out more.

18/05/2015

Just Back From Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze: Hits & Misses

wine on a cruise ship

Taking three ships, all designed and built in the 1980s, from one cruise line to another is a challenging task — as small ship cruise line Windstar discovered. Despite an ambitious $2 million plan to upgrade Star Pride, one of three 212-passenger Seabourn ships, the effort wasn’t perhaps ambitious enough, leading to poor reviews when the line relaunched the vessel last year.

Now on its second time around with Star Breeze (and Star Legend, which arrives in May), Windstar got a lot more right. First, it upped the ante on the refurbishment budget to almost $9 million. And one badly designed feature — the ships’ sun decks, which felt carved up, choppy and unwelcoming — has been redesigned, to magnificent effect. And finally, Star Pride’s time in service provided Windstar executives with plenty of feedback; the line has relied strongly on insights from its passengers when making improvements.

So now that we’re off the ship, here are our hits and misses.

Read on for more

15/05/2015

Hot on the Forums: Is it better to be overdressed or underdressed onboard?

Formal couple  (photo: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

According to Mark Twain “clothes maketh man,” and there’s nothing like the topic of dress codes to get cruisers hot under the sartorial collar. Most times, the debate concerns passengers who shun suggested formal night attire, donning T-shirts and flip-flops instead of tuxedos and fancy shoes.

Style police aside, we’ve all had moments when we’ve dithered in front of the closet. I’ve always been stumped by the ambiguous ‘smart casual,’ choosing to err on the smarter side of the spectrum — and then wondering if the resulting outfit will be over the top. And of course, you never know if you’re heading for a potential wardrobe malfunction until you get there.

How dressed is too dressed is the exact topic launched on the Cruise Critic forums by Eglesbrech on the Cunard board.

Read on to find out more!

13/05/2015

Just Back From….Celebrity Eclipse: What’s new onboard

 

Gastrobar: 45 different craft beers on offer

 

Built in 2010, Celebrity’s S-class ships are by no means “old.” But Celebrity is not a line to stand still, and has been updating its popular Solstice-class ships with new bars and new restaurants.

We got onboard Celebrity Eclipse last week, just after an eight-day drydock. Here’s what’s changed on the Southampton-based ship.

Read on to find out more.

12/05/2015

Member review of the week: A big “WOW”

Well the first reviews of Anthem of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s newest megaship – are in, and the general consensus is: Wow.

Frequent cruiser and this week’s reviewer Jb-lhr gave the cruise that he (she?) took this month a resounding five star rating.

Jb-lhr, who has been on almost 40 cruises, began this three-day “taster cruise” in Southampton and, at the end of the voyage, seemed extremely impressed – saying that they definitely planned to be back onboard the Anthem of the Seas.

Read on to find out more.

11/05/2015

We try out Celebrity Cruises’ Suite Class (and we like it)

Luminae Restaurant, Celebrity Eclipse

More and more mainstream cruise lines are adding separate areas for their highest-paying passengers.

Think executive floors on hotels or premium cabins on aeroplanes, with lounges, separate dining areas and personalized service — only at sea. MSC Cruises has the Yacht Club, Norwegian Cruise Line has The Haven, and Cunard has long had Grills Class. Just last week Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said it’s likely Suite Class will roll out across the Royal fleet.

Celebrity Cruises’ entry into the market is its Suite Class, launched this year. Although the only structural difference suite passengers will notice is a brand-new restaurant, Luminae, high rollers on Celebrity ships now receive priority embarkation, premium drinks, dining across specialty restaurants, private minibar, exclusive access to Michael’s Club and your own personal butler, among other perks.

Do these perks smack of “elitism?” Arguably, yes. On a ship such as Celebrity Eclipse, where we sampled the service, just 132 people — out of a total of 2,852 — get to experience all of this. But is there any difference between traveling in Suite Class and First Class on planes? (Also, the trend isn’t going away: Celebrity President & CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo has said the line’s new Edge Class of ships, debuting in 2018, will continue Suite Class.)

We got onboard to find out for ourselves. Here’s what living the “suite life” is like on Celebrity.

Read on to find out more.