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(18-10-2010)

The New Queen Elizabeth - Other Cruise News: Crystal Startles Travel Agents And Delphin Disappears



by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

Queen Elizabeth II officially named Cunard Line's new Queen Elizabeth last Monday in Southampton, and the Cruise Examiner today gives us his reaction to the new ship. Meanwhile, Crystal Cruises' vice-president of sales says something rather surprising. And Germany's Delphin Cruises closes down due to a charter dispute with the Greek owners of the Delphin Voyager.


STORY OF THE WEEK

The New Queen Elizabeth Pleases

Cunard Line's new Queen Elizabeth wowed the crowds that visited her last week, both before and after her official christening by Queen Elizabeth II on Monday, October 11. Many who visited her have indeed said that she could become their favourite Cunarder.

The new ship, now on her maiden voyage, is visibly different from her near sister ship Queen Victoria in two ways. First, there is a new greens area (tennis, bowls and croquet) atop the bridge that adds a sort of "crown" appearance to the superstructure and has been adopted from the Grand Princess class of ships. And at the stern, she is more built up by the addition of a few more cabins and a larger lido and aft pool area.

The Queen Elizabeth is not only comfortable but also quite cosy, considering that she can carry more than 2,000 passengers. Although in many ways she is like the Queen Victoria, her colours are more pleasing to the eye, with a completely different palette, more 1930s than 1890s, and she has her own set of innovations as well.

Teresa Anderson, the director of interior design for sister company Princess Cruises who has also worked on P&O ships, had become vice-president of interior design for Cunard Line for the Queen Victoria and followed on with Queen Elizabeth too. She, along with Giacomo Mortola, president of GEM in Genoa, and a veteran from Sitmar days, and London's SMC Design, have been responsible for the final product.

In Anderson's words, "Classical motifs along with Art Deco influences coalesce into a subtle continuity that captures the mystique of the ocean liner."

They have done a remarkable job especially so as occasionally in the past Anderson has been criticised for being responsible for "Princess bland." That brand's somewhat "safe" decor, inherited from the likes of Sea Venture and Sitmar, has until now had no obviously identifiable ethos of its own, unlike competitors Celebrity and Holland America.

But back to the new ship, the Queen's Room forward on Deck 2 takes great advantage of its space while further aft the two-deck Britannia Restaurant on Decks 2 and 3 is also very striking. Her public rooms take advantage of height and colours throughout are lighter and warmer than on Queen Victoria. Furthermore, the use of sweeping staircases throughout this ship evoke her liner heritage, coming down the years from the Queen Mary, the first Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2.

In fact, Peter Shanks, president of Cunard, drew the audience's attention to the fact that Her Majesty was the only person at the ceremony who had been present at the naimings of all thee ships - as a princess at the launching of Queen Elizabeth by her mother in 1938, launching the QE2 herself in 1967, and last week naming the new Queen Elizabeth. She also named the Queen Mary 2 in 2003.

On board again, forward of the Queen's Room, one finds Golden Lion Pub to starboard and forward of that again, on Decks 1, 2 and 3, the two-deck Royal Court Theatre with its private boxes. Above the Golden Lion Pub are the shops, including the first seagoing branch of the famed Fortnum & Mason.
To followers of promenade decks, the new Queen Elizabeth is an advance on the Queen Victoria as she has a completely wrap-around promenade on Deck 3, whereas the Queen Victoria's stops at the forward end and does not connect across.

The public areas of the new ship flow very well, with each room having a drama of its own. At the same time, the lighter tones make the ship seem less Dickensian, giving off a warmer feeling than Queen Victoria (although the Queen Victoria is a very comfortable ship in her own right, her colours are more Edwardian and more Art Nouveau than Art Deco). One travel agent, Tina Bull, who travelled in the original Queen Elizabeth as a 16-year-old girl, was quoted in "Travel Weekly," saying the new Queen Elizabeth "has such a wonderful feel to it - as soon as you come onboard it is welcoming and very relaxing."

In terms of dining venues, the Britannia Club and the Verandah Restaurant on Deck 2 are a great advance on Todd English on the other Queens (Reviews of Todd English often seem to say that people came away disappointed) and the Grill restaurants atop the ship will be very popular, especially as the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria offer far better locations than in the Queen Mary 2's hind quarters.

And the Grills, although they can be accessed only by Grill passengers with their key cards, are sufficiently out of the way on top of the ship that other passengers are not obviously offended by a seeming class system.

The Queen Elizabeth's Garden Lounge is a departure from the Winter Garden on Queen Victoria. With its windowed ceiling, it looks like a large conservatory and while striking to look at (especially on a sunny day in Southampton) it will be interesting to see how it works when in service. This lounge looks out onto the midship pool area that leads in turn to that greens area under the crown dome forward.

The public thoroughfares on the lounge decks of the new ship are very comfortable and the choices of carpeting throughout the ship are striking - rich and comforting and not gimmicky as on some recent ships. The position of the Queen's portrait is somewhat surprising though. One might have expected it to be installed in the centre of a main stairwell, but in fact it is hung off the starboard side of one of the stair landings.

On the same deck, the Cafe Carinthia is quite possibly the most comfortable lounge on the ship, and is much larger than the same space on Queen Victoria.

Both Lord Linley's veneer marquetry Art Deco-style representation of the original Queen Elizabeth and the memorabilia and artwork throughout the ship have been well chosen. And the ship's bell and building plaque from the QE2 can be found outside the Yacht Club, as can the silver model of her, which was somehow repatriated from Dubai. As well as photos of passengers from the old Queens, there are paintings and works of art throughout, typically of say the Venice or Manhattan skylines. These touches make walking around the ship an interesting experience.

The aft pool area built up on Deck 9 aft has been extended right to the stern of the ship and is vastly larger than on Queen Victoria. In fact, it reminds one of the Orient Line's original Oriana of 1960. Fifty years ago, that ship was the first to bring us the "build her right to the stern" look that is common today and can also be seen in Holland America's Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam.

Although it changes the outboard profile from the more tiered Queen Victoria, this area on Queen Elizabeth is very effective as a lido and has much more outdoorsy feel than the enclosed, almost claustrophobic, feeling generated around the pools of many mass market ships with their waterslides and metallic palm trees. Queen Elizabeth is a great improvement on the Holland America ships as she does not have the clutter of those for-hire tents that HAL call cabanas.

The decks on Queen Elizabeth, however, are laid from artificial teak and one would hope that one day Cunard will see fit to lay proper teak, even it actually costs £300 to £400 per square metre for ship's decking based on thickness.

All in all, it is hard to believe that the Queen Elizabeth has been built on what is a lengthened version of the same platform that was used for the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam. The new Queens have no chrome decoration and their hard surfaces are more marble than metallic, more chandelier than shard or funny colours. Overhead lighting fixtures are quite spectacular, but still traditional.

In sum, the Queen Elizabeth is a very comfortable ship. Shortcomings: lack of teak decks make the outside grill area look cheap and as for the buffet area, well a cafeteria is a cafeteria, but this area is more easily avoided than Queen Mary 2's King's Cafeteria and now features individual food stations.

Attractions: The feel of the ship is very much like an ocean liner, even moreso than Queen Mary 2, and the lounge areas have a different, one might say smoother, flow. The overall effect is like being in a grand hotel.


THIS WEEK IN CRUISING

Crystal Startles Travel Agents

For several years now, both the major players, Carnival Corp & PLC and Royal Caribbean Cruises, have maintained that allowing agents to rebate from commission to buy business devalues the cruise product. Indeed, one rather large agency on the west coast was even put on "stop sell" after advertising fares at a level that Royal Cartibbean found unacceptable. And Crystal Cruises have always supported this.

Then, on October 6, "Cruise Weekly" reported an interview with Bill Smith, senior vice-president of Crystal Cruises. In it, Smith was quoted as saying "We have a rebating rule. You can play within 8%; it can't be in dollars, it has to be amenities.
So an agent tells me they lost a booking to another agency. I ask them: 'Do the math. You tell me what it was, and what did you do to keep the client?' We'll tell them, 'Well, we do allow you to rebate up to 8%; did you do that?' 'No.'"


This is highly surprising for a line whose quoted policy reads "Crystal Cruises will apply commission penalties to any agency found to be offering consumers any kind of cash rebate, discount, payment in kind or in any other manner, a Crystal cruise fare below Crystal Cruises' then applicable published savings rate" but then makes an allowance of up to 8% in amenities. This small print has been in existence since November 2007 but it seems odd that such a senior executive would want to air it publicly.
One wonders in retrospect if this is really how Smith wanted to be quoted, especially as he represents such a high-value cruise product. Even the slightest suggestion to agents that they might want to rebate, even if in amenities and not cash, seems an odd way to get them to support Crystal Cruises.


Delphin Kreutzfahrten Closes

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, October 12, the day after the Queen Elizabeth was christened, Greece's Restis Group, owners of Delphin Kreuzfahrten's Delphin Voyager, decided to repossess the Japanese-built vessel at Piraeus. All her passengers were disembarked part way through her cruise and flown home by Delphin.

Later that same day, the German operator itself declared bankruptcy, with Delphin Kreuzfahrten GmbH, Delphin Cruises GmbH and Conpart Hotelmanagement & Catering-Service GmbH all filing for insolvency.

Delphin said in a statement that a long-running dispute concerning a 2006 refit of the Delphin Voyager had led to its failure. Delphin claims that the reconstruction of the vessel was not carried out as specified in the charter contract, which specified that 77 balcony cabins be installed, and suites as well as indoor and outdoor areas be completely renovated.

Delphin stated that owners had failed to correct these shortcomings, and this had resulted in Delphin cutting the charter rate. This in turn had led to the Delphin, a vessel owned by the Delphin Group, being arrested at Villefranche in September by Delphin Voyager owners the Restis Group.

Sister company Hansa Kreuzfahrten, now a Delphin Cruises brand, may also be affected as it is no longer an independent company within the group. But its web site still shows departures of the Delphin stretching as far into the future as May 2012 while at the same time reporting on the arrest of the Delphin Voyager.

For its part, the Restis Group said that Delphin had not been paid about $1.8 million in back charter hire, while other creditors were owed a similar amount, and the Delphin Voyager's German crew members had not been paid for two months.

The Delphin Voyager was acquired as a replacement for the Delphin Renaissance, the former R7, which Delphin had chartered between 2003 and 2006. That ship had been purchased by Pullmantur Cruises and renamed Blue Moon, becoming the Azamara Quest after Royal Caribbean Cruises acquired Pullmantur and allocated her to what is now its Azamara Club Cruises brand.


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