That’s the trouble with going away on a cruise . . . I’ve been so busy visiting the impressive sights on my Red Sea cruise and enjoying the delights of Thomson Celebration, that I haven’t had time to keep up with breaking news from the cruise ship world.
But I’m back in the UK (after enduring the nightmare that is Sharm el Sheikh international airport – but more of that later) so here’s a quick round-up.

  • The biggest news in many ways is that Norwegian Epic, to be launched in July and which will be sailing Caribbean cruises for 10 months from Miami, will be based in Barcelona from May until Ocober 2011 and again in 2012.

The 22 seven-night voyages will visit Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples and Palme de Mallorca, and with a capacity of 4,200 passengers, that means NCL will need to find 92,400 people to fill Epic during the season.
With Independence of the Seas (3,634 passengers) and Carnival Magic (3,640 passengers) also sailing European cruises next year, that means a huge increase in capacity and, no doubt, some fierce competition to attract customers.
Norwegian Epic’s 2011 and 2012 cruises went on sale in the US yesterday, with fares starting at $699 per person. UK prices are expected to be annopunced in March.

  • MSC Cruises, who will be showing off their latest ship, Magnifica, in Southampton at the end of February, have announced that the 2,200-passenger MSC Opera will be based in the port for 13 cruises between May and September next year. With MSC’s recent record of aggressive pricing, especially with their special deals for children and families, this will no doubt provide serious competition for Independence of the Seas and P&O ships such as Ventura and Azura which sail from Southampton. The move could also bring thousands of European passengers to the area for day trips to Stonehenge, the New Forest, Winchester and other destinations.
  • Plans to take the retired liner QE2 from her retirement home in Dubai to Cape Town have finally been abandoned. Since buying the ship for $100 million and taking it over in November 2008, Dubai’s well-documented financial problems have stalled plans to convert it into a luxury floating hotel, and it was announced some months ago that it would instead be used to provide accommodation for fans visiting this year’s FIFA World Cup, and would remain in South Africa for 18 months. But port authorities in Cape Town have squashed the plan, saying they were not prepared to sacrifice berth space to accommodate the ship for that length of time.
  • Carnival have been having problems with a couple of their ships in the Caribbean. The 2,600-passenger Destiny has been hit by propulsion problems which will require dry-dock repairs, to take place over seven days from February 13. The ship will operate at reduced speed before the repairs, necessitating amended itineraries for three cruises departing from Miami, and the cancellation of two cruises scheduled for the dry-dock period. It is expected to be back to its normal schedule by February 22.

Another Carnival vessel, the 2,500-passenger Miracle, was damaged yesterday morning while attempting to dock in St Kitts. The ship was caught by a gust of wind while berthing at Port Zante, and a 30-foot gash was torn in the hull. No passengers or crew were injured, but welders had to be called in from a nearby construction site to carry out repairs. The ship was delayed in port, and may now be late for its scheduled return to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.

  • Oh, and Sharm el Sheikh – if we thought the chaos was bad enough on arrival a week ago, departure yesterday was even more of a nightmare. Egyptian bureaucracy and obsession with form-filling is one thing, but the inability of the airport to cope with the volume of passengers passing through it is quite another.

A week before we flew in, one of its two terminals was put out of action by a torrential storm which flooded hotels and apartments throughout the resort.
Arriving from the ship yesterday with were faced with having to queue even to get into the terminal building. Security screening was an inefficient farce, and to cap it all, the luggage conveyor belts from the check-in desks were out of action, so we had to tag our bags and leave them to chance.
All of which contributed to a two-hour departure delay, and an anxious – though thankfully successful – wait in the Gatwick baggage hall after midnight.
If only flying could be as stress-free as travelling by cruise ship . . .