24 May 2018

Express (Viking FSTR) in Tallinn, 15 April 2017

Since I haven't really bee nable to go out and take photos of cruise ships visiting Helsinki this year (despite the exceedingly good weather recently), today's entry is a blast from the past - or last year's April and the Express in Tallinn, to be precise. As the ship has recently found a new operator, this is a good time to take an updated look at its history.

Express

IMO 9176046
Name history: Catalonia, Catalonia L, Portsmouth Express, Express
Built 1998, Incat Hobart, Australia
Tonnage 5 902 GT
Length 91,30 m
Width 26,00 m
Draught 3,73 m
836 passengers
120 cars
4 Caterpillar diesels, combined 28 800 kW
4 waterjets
Maximum speed 48 knots
Service speed 30 knots
 
The Express was completed in 1998 by Incat, the Tasmanian specialist fast catamaran builder, as the Catalonia for the Uruguyan fast ferry operator Buquebus. However, instead of Buquebus' home services linking Uruguay to Argentina, the Catalonia was, as the name suggests, meant for services in the Mediterranean. However, before entering service, the ship secured the Hales Trophy, awarded for the fastest Transatlantic crossing, on delivery voyage to Spain. (The Hales Trophy should not be confused with the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, which requires for a ship to carry passengers in regular liner service, whereas the Hales Trophy is awarded simply to the fastest ship). Less than two weeks later, however, the Catalonia lost the Hales Trophy to another Incat-built catamaran, the Cat-Link V.

Almost immediately after arriving in Spain, the ship's name was amended to Catalonia L, after which it entered service linking Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. Subsequently it also sailed on the Ceuta-Malaga-Algericas -route. From the 2000 summer season onwards, the ship was chartered during summers to P&O European Ferries as the Portsmouth Express on the Portsmouth-Charbourg -route. During the winters it reverted to Catalonia (now again without the L), but spent at least some of the winters simply laid up. For the 2003 season the ship was no longer renamed for the summer service, instead being marketed as the "Express". In late 2003, this became the official name.

From 2005 onwards, the Express spent summer seasons sailing on the Cairnryan-Larne and Troon-Larne routes with P&O Irish Ferries, occasionally making night-time crossings from Larne to Douglas (on the Isle of Man) with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Winters were spent laid up.

The pattern was finally broken in 2015, when the ship was sold to Nordic HSC, a shipowner associated with Gotlandsbåten, the new Swedish shipping company wishing to challenge the existing state-subsidized operator Destination Gotland on the routes connecting the Swedish mainland to Gotland. During the 2016 summer season, Express sailed for Gotlandsbåten on the Visby-Västervik and Visby-Nynäshamn routes. While passenger numbers were good, Gotlandsbåten failed to make a profit and the company decided not to resume operations for the 2017 summer season. Instead, it was laid up in Västervik for the winter.

The jobless Express was then chartered to Viking Line, who used her on the Helsinki-Tallinn line for the extended 2017 summer season (April-October), marketed as the "Viking FSTR" (pronounced "Viking Faster", to avoid confusion with the Viking XPRS, pronounced "Viking Express"). Unfortunately, the ship proved poorly suited for Viking's business model and this combined with her high operating costs made the season a failure - in end end, engine trouble forced her to stop sailing two weeks earlier than intended.

After being laid up in Helsinki for several weeks, at the end of November the Express limped to the Turku Ship Repair Yard in Naantali for repairs. While there, the livery received a small amendment, with the first two letters of the company name painted over from the side, creating the previously unheard-of King Line. Just before Christmas, the ship sailed back to Västervik to be laid up again.

In May 2018, the Express left Västervik for Spain. While initial information was that the ship was simply being relocated closer to potential charterers, it soon turned out it had been chartered to Armas in Spain and was headed to Motril. The Express remains in that port at the time of writing, presumably being refurbished for service. As Armas serves Al Hoceima, Melilla and Nador from that port, it seems likely that the Express will sail on those services during the upcoming summer season (at least).

The photos below, however, are slightly older, showing the Express arriving in Tallinn in the evening of 15 April 2017 (it was seriously delayed), photographed from the windows of the departure lounge in Terminal A. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

This shot was also the cover of Ulkomatala issue 3/2017.Not the first time I was in the cover, it is always nice when it happens.
Nothing particularly speacial about these shots, but I do like that they show a slightly diffrerent point of view from the usual ones. Plus the Tallinn TV tower in the background immediately tells the viewer where we are.
The colours aren't bad either, even if shooting though a window ever so slightly altered them compared to reality (not that a photo would ever be a 100% accurate reproduction of reality anyway.
Can't say I would miss the ship, to be honest.
Kships will return. Hopefully with some new stuff, but equally likely is that we'll have another blast from the past.

19 May 2018

Birka Stockholm in Stockholm, 13 April 2018

After the recent concentration on the Norwegian Bliss, we return to more normal programming today and look at the Birka Stockholm, which has again changed livery since it was last featured here.

Birka Stockholm

IMO 9273727
Name history: Birka Paradise, Birka Stockholm
Built 2004, Aker Finnyards Rauma, Finland
Tonnage 34 728 GT
Length 177,00 m
Width 28,00 m
Draugth 6,50 m
1 800 passengers
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 23 400 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 21 knots

The history of the Birka Stockholm is covered in this previous entry. Currently, the ship is in her third livery during her time with Birka Cruises (and, of course, second name), and I have to say she is a prime example of the livery steadily getting worse. The original was beautiful and vibrant (not to mention the fact it featured the colours of the flag of the Åland islands, a nice touch), the second was already pale and boring compared to that, and the current one is just bland. See for yourself below.

The photos here were taken on 13 April 2018 from onboard the Mariella, showing the Birka Stockholm arriving in Stockholm. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

At this point the spring was still so early there was no foliage. Today looks rather different.
But as for the livery of the ship... so bland. What were they thinking?
Interestingly enough, this is the first time in the company's history they have the company name painted on the side. In the past, they have had either no text there, or the ship's name in large letters.
As the ship is being marketed sinply as the Birka, it wouldn't be a bad idea to revive the practice of painting only the ship's name (or in this case, the marketing name) on the side.
Still, she's certainly photogenic with the Stockholm skyline in the background.
Kships will return

10 May 2018

Norwegian Bliss interiors, decks 5-7

Welcome, everyone, to the grande finale of the Norwegian Bliss interior tour, where we look at the three bottom-most passenger decks: five, six and seven.

For decks 8-14, see this entry.
For decks 15-20, see this entry.

Norwegian Bliss

IMO 9751509
Built 2018, Meyer Werft Papenburg, Germany
Tonnage 168 028 GT
Length 333,46 m
Width 41,50 m
Draugth 9,00 m
4 004 passengers (lower berths)
5 MAN B&W diesels, combined 43 200 kW
2 azipods
3 bow thrusters
Service speed 23,2 knots

Photos taken on 20 and 21 April 2018.

Deck 7 is given over solely to public rooms.

The Bliss Theater extends down to deck 6, but is only accessible from deck 7. To be honest, I thought this venue could have been better - it was difficult to see the stage if there were people sitting in front of you (and I'm a tall guy, so this is rarely a problem for me - but it was here). Furthermore, music from the  Q Texas Smokehouse, located below the theater, could clearly be heard at least in back rows - less than nice when listening to a musical.
The elevator lobbies are impressive - but also big enough for it to be difficult to notice that a lift has arrived if you're standing in one end of the lobby and the lift is in the other.
Next up, we have The Local Bar and Grill, which replaces O'Sheehans on the previous ships (I'm surprised they kept the name of the former CEO in for the venue this long, to be honest).
Futher aft, we have the ridiculously large Casino complex that fills about a third of the deck. Personally, I've never understood the appeal of Las Vegasian casinos (and on all my cruises they've been mostly empty), but maybe I'm just too European to appriciate them.
The Skyline Bar is a continuation of the Casino complex, but has a near Art Deco -inspired looks, tying itself to the next public room...
...which is The Manhattan Room, located right aft. To me, the venue feels like a relic of the traditional main dining room and doesn't perhaps quite fit in with the rest of the ship. Here's the entrance...
...and here's the actual dining area.
Deck 6 is, like the deck above, dedicated solely to public rooms.

The Q Texas Smokehouse is, as the name suggests, a Texan-style smokehouse, but with added live music. It replaces The Supper Club from previous Breakway Plus -class ships.
Going aft, we next have the Atrium, which has also been redesigned from the older members of the class, and now features a dedicated Starbucks Café. Which I didn't photograph, as it was always too busy.
Next on the port side is the Social Comedy & Night Club...
...which, for some reason, has two side rooms in completely different style: this 1970s meets a gothic cathedral -style room...
...and this more refined library-like space.
On the starboard side, meanwhile, we have Coco's café and chocolatier, a new venue added on the Norwegian Bliss. Adjacent to it is the Teppanyaki Japanese restaurant, but the doors to that one were closed whenever i tried to go and photograph it so I can't show it to you.
Finally, we have the twin dining rooms of Taste and Savor aft (or at least as aft as the public rooms go).These are identical except for the colour scheme, but being smart I didn't write down which is which. I think this is Savor, but there is a 50% chance I'm wrong.
But if I am right, then this is Taste.
Deck 5 is the bottom-most passenger accessible deck. It has cabins forward, followed by public rooms for children and teenagers aft. Personally, I was a bit surprised that these were hidden so far down on a ship aimed at least in part at families. It was also odd that none of the public rooms here had windows - at least my son loves to stare at the ocean, so I would think windows in the kid's rooms would be a given.

The first kid's room is Guppies, meant or the smallest children. The bubbles are a fun idea, but why are they so high that no toddler can actually see through them? At toddler level, the room is actually a bit boring as far as the decor goes.
Next, we have the Splash Academy, which is actually a huge complex - I was sure I would get lost when walking in. It was also the space that I liked most of all public rooms onboard in terms of decor. Not sure what that says about me (especially as my experience on the Crystal Symphony was similar - except there my fave was the teen's room).
Next aft, we have the video arcade. Unfortunately I didn't have time to sample the games.
And finally, the Entourage teen's lounge.
Which brings this tour of the Norwegian Bliss to an end. The ship can really be summed up as a high-density ship for the mass market (even if NCL are selling it as a premium product due to it being almost all-inclusive). There is so much to see that you definately won't get bored, although keeping track of all the options can be a challenge - this is especially true for the dining rooms, as it's surprising difficult to find out which restaurants are included in the cruise fare and which are not, and which ones require a reservation and which ones do not.

NCL have done great work with reconnecting their guests to the ocean with The Waterfront and the extremely impressive Observation Lounge, but to me these felt a bit like half measures - especially on the lower public rooms decks (particularly the ones covered here) windows were few and far between. You still have to actively go to a venue which gives you a connection to the world outside, rather than it being a constantly present backdrop (as it is on some of my favourite ships). Of course, this is a matter of personal preference and I'm sure that the Norwegian Bliss' passengers will be more than pleased with her.

Kships will return, but with what I can't yet say.

02 May 2018

Norwegian Bliss interiors: decks 8-14

As I'm writing this, the Norwegian Bliss is en-route from Halifax to New York, due to arrive in the latter port tomorrow for the first time. So this is a good time to take a second look at the ships' interiors, covering decks 14 through eight. Admittedly, since we're only covering the public rooms, this means all but one picture is actually from Deck 8 - but that more than makes up for this entry, as there are 14 public rooms plus associated outdoors spaces on that deck alone.

For decks 15-20, see this entry.

Norwegian Bliss

IMO 9751509
Built 2018, Meyer Werft Papenburg, Germany
Tonnage 168 028 GT
Length 333,46 m
Width 41,50 m
Draugth 9,00 m
4 004 passengers (lower berths)
5 MAN B&W diesels, combined 43 200 kW
2 azipods
3 bow thrusters
Service speed 23,2 knots

The data above is hopefully correct, different sources unfortunately give conflicing figures. All photos taken on 20 April 2018.

Deck 14 is given over exclusively to cabins.

Deck 13 is similarly a cabins only deck.

Deck 12 is another cabins deck, featuring both regular cabins and NCL's speciality studio cabins, designed for solo travellers.

Deck 11 has more regular and studio cabins, as well as the Studio Lounge, exclusively for the use of passengers in the studio cabins. (I'm not 100% certain about which deck the studio lounge was on - I didn't mark it down on my notes and it doesn't appear in the deck plans for some reason).

The studio cabins are a fantastic invention from NCL, and one I would love to see on other ships too (with or without the exclusive lounge).

Deck 10 has, surprise surprise, more cabins, both studio and regular.

Deck 9 is another cabin deck, this time only regular cabins.

Deck 8 has some cabins forward, but most of the deck is given over to public rooms. It also features The Waterfront, NCL's contemporary take on an outdoors promenade.

The District Brew House, flanking the forward staircase to the port, serves 24 beers on tap and more than 50 bottled beers.
Mirroring District Brew House on the starboard side is Food Republic, serving different types of foods from all over the world.
Moving towards the stern, we have The Cellars Wine Bar on the port side of the central corridor...
...behind which is La Cucina Italian restaurant...
...which, like all dining venues on the deck, has outdoors seating on The Waterfront.
Across from the above on the starboard side of the ship is The Cavern Club...
...which also has Waterfront seating. The brick walls on a ship look particularly incongruous on the outer deck.
Further aft from The Cavern were have Maltings Whiskey Bar, aft of which is The Humidor Cigar Lounge (which I didn't photograph).
Next on the port side we have the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, just off the three-deck high 678 Ocean Place three-storey atrium.
On the starboard side is the Ocean Blue seafood restaurant...
...which naturally comes with waterfront seating.
Somewhat oddly, large tracts on indoors areas on the deck are given over to the large tex-free shops but, since this is the deck with The Waterfront, these are flanked with outdoors seating not associated with any indoors space.
Further aft, we The Bake Shop and Dolce Gelato ice cream stand are found on the starboard side. These have only outdoors seating as far as I could make out.
Right aft, we have two speciality restaurants: port is Cagney's Steakhouse, where "steak is the standard".
Naturally, Cagney's comes with Waterfront seating.
Mirroring Cagney's on the starboard side is Los Lobos Mexican restaurant, which replaces the Moderno Churrascaria found on the previous Breakaway and Breakaway Plus -class ships built for the western markets. It is not an all-new restaurant, as a Los Lobos already exists on the Norwegian Dawn.
And of course, Los Lobos also has Waterfront seating.
Next time, we will look at the Norwegian Bliss' remaining passenger decks: five, six and seven. Meanwhile, if you want more, go back to last week's entry on decks 15-20.