Douglas Ward's Cruiseletter January 2013

Douglas Ward's Cruiseletter, (photo by Apa Publications)
Douglas Ward's Cruiseletter

Cruise ships and their facilities are constantly changing, and our cruising expert Douglas Ward spends up to 200 days a year at sea keeping track of developments at first hand. This is Douglas' latest update of cruise news – the Berlitz Cruiseletter! If you're not following already, you can sign up for cruise updates here.

Hello, and welcome to the 21st edition of the Berlitz Cruiseletter, with information and observations about the cruise industry. 

More Book for your Buck


The 2013 edition of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships is packed with information as never before. The 704-page book (author: yours truly) is now in its 28th year of publication. It’s a massive undertaking but, as always, I relish the challenge.

If you’re thinking about taking a cruise next year, then this book is the ideal tool to help plan your shipboard getaway. You can read about the ships that are coming in 2013. There are more maps (and more cruise ports are included on them), and more ideas for destinations in the Where To? chapter, and we have provided more detailed information on emissions and the environmental impact of cruising if you're concerned about your ecological footprint.

This year, we’ve added more colour photographs than ever, keeping the book fresh and alive. Here are a few of my favourites. I really like the photo on page 19 of Freedom of the Seas seemingly almost touching New York’s Statue of Liberty. The image on page 89 captures the feeling of complete relaxation that only a cruise can offer. For foodies, there’s a great photo on page 61 of an alfresco buffet ashore in Alaska – laid on by the crew of Hanseatic. On page 98 you’ll find a photo of the nuclear-powered Fifty Years of Victory on an expedition to the Arctic. The picture of celebrity chef Dieter Müller on page 190, taken in the fine dining restaurant of Europa (aboard which he sails for about 70 percent of each year), illustrates his meticulous attention to detail. Then there’s the quirky photo on page 154 showing a mural aboard Norwegian Pearl. Spot the deliberate error – the accordionist is actually playing the instrument the wrong way round (the keyboard should be on the musician’s right side)!

Just in case you don’t know yet, the 2013 edition is also available as an ebook, which can be downloaded from and read on a Kindle, or purchased from the iTunes store and read on an iPad. It has the same content as the physical book – at the same price – and includes all the colour photographs and the complete ship reviews. But the best bit is that it's more portable than ever before - you can now take the book with you on your travels, without adding weight to your luggage. Other advantages of the ebook are that you can double tap to enlarge and zoom in on all the pictures, maps, tables and charts. And you can make the typeface any size you want to suit your eyesight, or change the fonts or colors of the background. It’s just fabulous to be able to carry it around in your lightweight e-reader and show it off to your friends! The text is also searchable, so you can quickly find the bits that interest you most.


Planning Cruise Itineraries

In an industry conference earlier this year, cruise line executives discussed a broad range of topics including deployment, source markets and operational issues. I thought you might like to know about some of the issues that were discussed, because they will provide you with an understanding of how certain cruise itineraries are put together, and some of the factors involved in the decision-making process.

--Marketability (itinerary appeal), efficiency and profitability are the three things at the core of the business model of the major cruse companies.

--The approach to planning itineraries has become much more scientific over the past few years, and there are more factors to take into account – particularly for the large resort ships (those carrying between 1,750 and 6,500 passengers).

--Time, speed and distance all play a major role in the deployment decisions of major cruise lines. There is a growing tendency to plan more open jaw (one way) cruises compared to closed jaw (in which the itinerary is set, with the same embarkation and disembarkation ports). One-way air fares are factored into the equation, and so this, of course, will impact flight costs. In addition, the consensus is that 13-16 knots is an optimum speed for efficient fuel use, with an overnight range of up to 250 nautical miles between ports of call.

--Congestion is an issue in some Mediterranean ports and there is an over-supply of ships in the region. This is good news for ports in the Black Sea, which will probably receive some of the spill-over, and explains why some of the major cruise lines are deploying their ships further afield – towards Asia and Alaska, for example.

--Ports have been cashing in on their cruise business, sometimes without telling their customers (the cruise lines) of the actual or total costs of a ship visit. One of the problems for cruise lines is the lack of tugs that can handle the large resort ships. And vital information – such as the wind speed at the port entrance, the swell and size of wave at the berth under wind conditions and the power of the available tugs – is often lacking.


Are You Being Served?


Sadly, the number of complaints I receive from international passengers has been steadily rising.

The number one complaint is about surly service from staff who take no pride in what they do for a living. This situation is made worse by the automatic tipping system adopted by many cruise lines today, which provides a disincentive for service staff to go the extra mile. It is particularly prevalent aboard some of the larger ships, where some staff are simply robotic in their approach, and the answer “no” has become the easy way out when faced with questions from passengers.

Even aboard some of the so-called luxury cruise lines, staff members may wear uniforms that announce professional intent, but the reality is that these appear to act simply as a convenient barrier between ‘them’ and ‘us’. 

It’s not only service staff that is the problem but even the navigation officers. One example noted recently was aboard Queen Mary 2 when, on a five-day cruise from Southampton, bridge officers and senior management forgot to remind passengers to reset their timepieces on the last night before disembarkation. The announcement was also missed off the Daily Programme! Imagine the confusion and irritation of passengers who got up one hour earlier than they needed to!

Poor training and a shortage of qualified service staff are also part of a problem that will result in ever declining standards unless the cruise lines get to grips with it soon.



The French company Ponant Cruises has been sold, although it is expected to keep its present name. The new owners also own the Prêt à Manger food outlet chain and Leeds Bradford Airport, among other assets.


Coming Up

Having recently sailed aboard Aegean Odyssey, I am pleased to say that this one-ship company – Voyages to Antiquity – is on the rise. The ship has been very tastefully refurbished and offers an excellent array of academic lecturers and outstanding excursions (included in the cruise price). The food has been improved, and the ship is fast becoming one of those little hidden ‘gems’ that only the real cruise insiders know about. With a maximum of 410 passengers (after the addition of a few cabins in November this year), the space ratio is still healthy. The ship has a good number of single-occupancy cabins (36), and some 38 cabins have bathtubs.

The company’s brochure is fascinating, and full of information about the itineraries. While Aegean Odyssey is not a new ship by any means, go for the excursions, lecturers and guides – they are among the best in the business. The ship cruises mainly in the Aegean Sea in summer, and in the Indian Ocean and the Far East regions (including Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand) in winter.


My five top cruise destinations for 2013


1.     The Mediterranean

The whole region is a kaleidoscope of countries, with different cultures, customs, and traditions, plus an amazing variety of architecture. You can cruise directly from the UK, or fly to Barcelona, Rome, or Venice, and you’ll get to see a wide variety of destinations in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. You could also start in Venice and cruise along the Croatian coastline to places like Rijeka, Split, and Dubrovnik.  


2.     Danube or Rhine River Cruise

River cruises are really hot this year, because it’s such a comfortable way in which to see major inland cities such as Vienna, Budapest, and Cologne, plus a host of other small towns (and vineyards) along the Danube. The scenery is simply beautiful, and, if you take a Rhine cruise you’ll see castles galore. All shore excursions are included, and, with less than 200 passengers, it’s a small group experience.

3.     Baltic and Northern Capitals

Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, with the highlight of an overnight stay in St. Petersburg - are on the list of cities you’ll visit during a 12-14-day cruise. The architecture of me of the palaces in and close to St. Petersburg is simply stunning.


4.     Alaska

A cruise to Alaska is all about nature and seeing glaciers and wildlife in a natural setting, interspersed with visits to gold mining towns, flightseeing over the glaciers, and salmon bakes.


5.     Norwegian Fjords

Cruising in tranquil waters through the fjords of Norway can be a magical experience. You’ll visit Bergen, where the music of Grieg is a focal point. Then there’s the history, culture, and the natural beauty of the fjords and glaciers themselves.


That's all for now. Until next time, I wish you all Bon Voyage.


Douglas Ward

Find out more

If you enjoyed the above then, why not sign up to the Berlitz Cruiseletter?

Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2013

With over 650 pages of colour pictures, hard facts and forthright opinions, plus a chapter on first-time cruising, the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2013 gives you all the information you need to pick the right cruise for you. It is also available as an eBook. Buy your copy now!


For app fans, the Berlitz Cruise Ships 2013 app is available to buy at £4.99 / $6.99 on iTunes. Buy now...


Discover more with Insight and Berlitz


home  •  inspire me  •  destinations  •  shop •  blog