Britain's most famous and most loved cruise lines, P&O Cruises and Cunard Line, have announced plans to introduce a new pricing scheme which — in theory — should mean everyone onboard has benefitted from the same level of value.
The new Vantage Fare, as the cruise lines have called it, along with the new price promise essentially means everyone will have paid the same equivalent cost for their cabins — except for last minute bookers, but we'll come back to them. The fare code guarantees passengers that book early, that if the price goes down, they will receive benefits of equivalent value in the form of onboard spend or cabin upgrade.
Without going into the finer details, this a fantastic news. There is nothing worse than sitting in a lounge bar, enjoying a drink to two, then overhearing other passengers boasting about how little they paid compared to everyone else. For some people, it can almost ruin their cruise — it would annoy me too, but not to that level.
What this new scheme means is you can enjoy all the benefits of booking early, as well as reaping a few of the benefits of price drops, should P&O or Cunard need to adjust the cruise fare. You can book the exact grade you want, even pick the cabin number if you have a favourite cabin or location, AND (yes I did mean to shout) guarantee the dining times and table size you prefer.
There are also a bunch of other benefits being thrown in for good measure too, such as onboard credit, free parking or free coach transfers. For the exact details click the links below:
So, not only do you get to the early pick on the cruises, cabins and dining options, but you don't have to worry about the price changing. For example, if the price comes down £200pp, then you'll get that £400 back to spend onboard — based on a couple of course. Okay, so it's not a refund, but it makes life easier having your account pre-loaded with your spending money, just don't get carried away in the champagne bar on the first night.
This for me is one of the bravest and most intelligent moves a cruise line has made in years, addressing what can be a bit of a pricing problem. People who book early, shouldn't be penalised for it, and they won't anymore.
Okay, so the small print points out that Getaway Fares — or last minute deals to you and me — are excluded from the price promise. But though these passengers will be filling the last remaining cabins at lower prices, they lose out on a lot of benefits too. Paying in full, not knowing your cabin number or location and not getting your preferred dining choices can for many passengers, made a huge difference to a cruise. And with the new Vantage Fare and Price Promise, I can't see the difference in cost of these late deals outweighing the benefits of booking early.
For those among us who like to book early, there has never been a better time to book your perfect P&O Cruise or Cunard voyage, and for the late bookers out there, watch out for the martini supping, excursion boasting early bookers who are boasting about the great value of their holiday and how they've barely spent a penny onboard.
Oh, and the icing on the cake. If you have already booked for a cruise departing form 1st April 2013 as part of the early brochure launch, you will automatically be having all these benefits added to your cruise in a matter of days!
Robin Jones, one of our cruise experts, was recently given the opportunity to visit the Centre for Simulator Maritime Training (Csmart) facility just outside Amsterdam.
Csmart is the main training facility for officers on Carnival’s fleet (which includes P&O Cruises). It’s an accurate simulation of a cruise ship bridge, built to train officers — not just for standard procedures — but also in handling challenging and uncommon scenarios. It features a huge wrap-around screen showing the bridge in all sorts of different situations. There’s also a bridge-wing simulator (used when manoeuvring into port and berthing) and an engine room simulator.
All About Csmart
What makes Csmart really special is its fantastic flexibility. It can programmed to simulate virtually any ship in any location and — wait for it — under any combination of circumstances. This could be all sorts, like weather changes, tides, currents and marine traffic.
Photo: ©: CSMART
It was built by Carnival in 2009 as their main European training base and is used by all their officers for five day courses and training. This allows staff besides just the Captain to have input and be able to help with important tasks onboard, helping the smooth running of the ships.
The simulator’s triple screen shows what you exactly what you’d see through a ship’s windows, with one screen showing the course, one the speed and the other direction — along with the radar.
Trying It Out
Amazingly, we were lucky enough to test the simulator out. We were set a route around the islands of Hong Kong on the Grand Princess. Getting behind the control, you really got a sense for how the ship to responds to your inputs. We also had to bring the Costa Serena into Fort Lauderdale — no mean feat!
I was navigating alongside my co-pilot, with one other person steering. Responsible for the speed and course, we guided the ship between the buoys into the port, whilst flicking between the radar and maps to see where we were in relation to the docks.
As we pulled into port, we had to turn the ship to starboard, bring it to a complete stop and then reverse it into the berth. We discovered first-hand, just how well-trained you need to be, as we somehow managed to crash into the dockside. Think we’ll leave it to the experts next time!
The visit to Csmart has given me a valuable insight into how the systems and the bridge of a cruise ship works. It also made me realise how much skill and training they go though to get to where they are today. A real eye-opener — and can’t finish without a big thanks to Carnival for the opportunity.
Cruises to the Northern Lights have increased in popularity in recent years, with more ships to the region and more lectures about the subject taking place onboard. And wehre better to see the Northern Lights, than onboard with the Norwegian coastal specialists, Hurtigruten?
As cruise ships seem to get bigger, the demand for cruises onboard smaller ships, to more intimate and interesting destinations are on the rise. Hurtigruten offer small, intimate and very different ships to a typical super-liner — in actual fact, they are nothing like a cruise ship in reality.
Hurtigruten's heritage comes from delivering post, passengers and produce along the Norwegian coast. They service towns and ports cut off from the rest of the world by heading up the coast whatever the weather. They moved into combining their trips with cruising some years ago and offer an altogether different experience, but a charming and ideal way to see the Northern Lights in their full glory.
Though the Northern Lights can be seen on a variety of Hurtigruten's sailings, they are running a specific Northern Lights astronomy cruise in November this year. MS Midnatsol, at 16,000 tonnes and only carrying 644 passengers, is a minnow by cruising standards, but this means she can get into places larger ships can't.
The astronomy cruise will take passengers from Bergen to the Arctic Circles — via regular cruise stops such as Alesund, Tromdheim and Tromso — with Dr John Mason onboard to offer his expertise on astronomy in a variety of lectures during the cruise.
Dr John Mason has been an astronomy expert for 30 years and sails onboard all of Hurtigruten's astronomy cruises. The former President of the British Astronomical Association is also an international affiliate Member of the American Astronomical Society and an honorary member of the Astronomical-Geodesical Society of Russia — such is his expertise. Mason has also appeared with Sir Patrick Moore on BBC TV's The Sky at Night.
With expertise of this level onboard, you can be assured that not only will the sightseeing aspect of the cruise be fantastic, but the learning aspect will be as well. You can expect to find him onboard, guiding passengers through the Aurora Borealis — the formal name of the Northern Lights — as well as offering lectures during the cruise.
So, when is best see the Northern Lights? They are usually seen between August and March, with the best time being between 9pm and 1am. Spending four days inside the Arctic Circle, while not guaranteeing anything, greatly improves your chances of seeing this stunning act of nature. Being on a ship geared up for cruising this rugged coastline whatever the weather is ideal for following the natural phenomena.
If visiting one of the planet's natural beauties, from the understated — yet charming — surrounds of a working ship as opposed to a huge cruise liner, along with the expert advice or a former President of the British Astronomical Association, then this cruise is for you. Just remember, the luxury is in seeing the Aurora Borealis, as opposed to the suite-filled ships of modern day cruising.
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