31 May 2016

Cruise Olbia in Civitavecchia, 12 May 2016

Today I was out and about, finally opening the summer cruise photo season for Helsinki - very much delayed - when the Marco Polo called. I have photographed the ship several times before, but CMV changed its livery for this year, so there was a reason to take another set of shots. Today, however, we'll be looking at something a bit different, a ferry I had never encountered before that I saw in Civitavecchia durig the recent Crystal Symphony cruise: Grimaldi's Cruise Olbia.

Cruise Olbia

IMO 9198939
Name history: Superfast VI, Bimini Superfast, Cruise Olbia
Built 2001, HDW Kiel, Germany
Tonnage 32 728 GT
Length 203,90 m
Width 25,00 m
Draught 6,80 m
1 595 passengers
842 cabin berths
1 000 cars
1 926 lanemetres
4 Wärtsilä-Sultzer diesels, combined 46 000 kW
2 propellers
1 bow thruster
2 stern thusters
Speed 28,9 knots

The Cruise Olbia (something of a misnomer considering the quality of the onboard product, I believe) started life as the Superfast VI - which, as you can guess, was the sixth newbuilt ship of Superfast Ferries, a subsidiary of Attica Enterprises. It was a sister ship to the Superfast V, the pair being the first ships Superfast built at HDW, who would go on to build four additional units after the first pair. Although products of a different shipyard, the Superfast V and VI were externally near-identical to the earlier Superfast III and IV pair built at Masa-Yards in Finland.

The Superfast VI was originally due to be delivered by the end of 2000, but due to technical difficulties the delivery was pushed back to February 2001, after which the ship entered service on Superfast Ferries Adriatic Sea routes. The ship sailed primarily on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Ancona route, apparently without major mishaps, for 12 years, until in February 2013 Attica Enterprises reported they had sold the ship to the Genting Group for delivery in March of the same year.

Genting were of course at the time primarily known for their Star Cruises brand, but the Superfast VI was destined for a different use: providing transportation between Miami and the Bimini (Bahamas) casino resort owned by the Genting subsidiary Resorts World. To make it more suitable for the new use, the Superfast VI sailed to Malaga, Spain, where it was refitted and renamed Bimini Superfast. Externally, the ship's livery was only superficially modified.

Originally, the Bimini Superfast was due to begin operations in late June 2013, but the US Coast Guard required modification to be carried out before it could operate out of US ports, and the service entry was pushed back until late July while further refitting was carried out.

As it turned out, the Miami-Bimini service was not a huge success. In January 2016, Genting withdrew the Bimini Superfast and laid it up, citing that they were looking for a more effective ferry as a replacement. Genting had, by this point, acquired Crystal Cruises and embarked on an aggressive expansion drive for the company - I'm personally mildly surprised they didn't rebuild the Bimini Superfast as a cruise ship for Crystal. Instead, the Bimini Superfast laid in Miami until March 2016, when it was sold to Grimaldi Group. Renamed Cruise Olbia, the ship sailed to Besiktas in Turkey for a brief refit before entering service with Grimaldi Lines in April.

The photos below show the Cruise Olbia arriving and moored at the port of Civitavecchia on the evening of 12 May 2016. Photographed from onboard the Crystal Symphony. Click on the images to see them in larger size.

The ship arrived at Civitavecchia somewhat delayed, which seems to be the way things are done on the Mediterranean.
I'm fairly certain the Grimaldi Lines text on the side is not in the standard font used by the company.
These photos could only have been taken from a cruise ship moored at Civitavecchia overnight (or at least one that stays quite late), so I'm very glad to have been there.
When the ship became the Bimini Superfast, the originally white area between the black stripes in the aft superstructure was painted red. For the Cruise Olbia, this was repainted Grimaldi's dark blue, which works even less well than the red..
The bow and stern thrusters were highly useful here. Also note Tirrenia's Amsicora in the background.
Later, that same evening, taken from the balcony without a tripod as I had already packed it away and left the luggage to be picked up by the crew. Considering the circumstances this shot turned out great!
Next time: Probably the Marco Polo.

27 May 2016

Crystal Symphony interiors: decks 6-5, 12 May 2016

Continuing from the previous entry, today we complete the top-to-bottom tour of the Crystal Symphony. In case you missed it, you can read the first entry, covering decks twelve through seven, here.

Crystal Symphony

IMO 9066667
Built 1995, Kvaerner Masa Yards Turku New Shipyard, Finland
Tonnage 51 044 GT
Length 238,01 m
Width 30,20 m
Draught 7,60 m
1 010 passengers
6 Sultzer diesels, combined 38 880 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 22 knots

Before we get to the beef of the entry, I would like to adress an issue that bothered me when I was onboard the Crystal Symphony and that I already alluded to in the previous entry: the naming policy of various public rooms onboard. Some of them are simply misnamed: the Lido Café is not a café but a cafeteria (despite the similarity, the terms are not interchangable) and The Bistro is not a bistro but a café. Other venues are give completely superfluous Crystal-prefixes (Crystal Casino, Crystal Cove, Crystal Dining Room, Crystal Plaza); the passengers already know they are onboard a Crystal Cruises ship, there's no need to rub it in - and even Crystal's own staff referred to these as The Cove, The Casino etc. when I was onboard. It's not only more practical but also sounds better.

In the same vein, Silk Road - the Japanese restaurant onboard - is a borderline case. Sure, it serves Japanese-European fusion cuisine, but while the historical Silk Road connected Europe to Asia, it did not extend to Japan, making the name a somewhat unfortunate choice. And in a further case of it being called something else by the company staff, I heard it referred to as Nobu's after Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, who both designed the menus and trained the chefs. Since it's very much his restaurant, I can't help thinking Nobu's would be a much superior name for the venue than the historically inaccurate Silk Road.

But enough of nitpicking and rambling, onwards to the point. All photos in this entry were taken while the Crystal Symphony was in port at Civitavecchia on 12 May 2016. Click on the images to see them in larger size.

Deck 6 (Tiffany Deck) contains the bulk of public rooms onboard. Starting forward, they are the Galaxy Lounge showroom, the Crystal Casino, Hollywood Theatre cinema, the top level of the atrium, which is surrounded by shops, the Bistro (actually a café), and the Library, followed by the Starlite Club, the photo shop, Connoisseur Club smoking room, Avenue Saloon bar, Computer University @ Sea, the Bridge Lounge and three speciality restaurants: The Vintage Room, Silk Road and Prego.
The decór of Galaxy Lounge doesn't exactly reflect the venue's name. Then again, since the show lounge is usually darkened and you're concentrating on the actual show, the decor doesn't really matter that much...
Immediately aft of the Galaxy Lounge is the Crystal Casino, which has an interesting ancient Greece -inspired ceiling treatment.
The entrance to the casino as seen from the arcade that connects the forward stair lobby to the atrium.
Aft of the Crystal Casino on the starboard side is Luxe, a former night club which has been converted to an extra casino area.
Considering how quiet the casino seemed to be during my trip, I'm not sure if extra space was nescessary, but at least the new bit looks better than old one.
Sandwiched between the casino areas and the arcade to port is Hollywood Theatre. It's decor is, according to Crystal's website, "inspired by classic Art Deco movie palaces". I'm not sure I see that, apart from the lighting fixtures, but it's a nice-looking venue never the less.
The Atrium - sorry, Crystal Plaza, as seen from the upper level on deck seven, facing aft. Behind the photographer and to the left are the ship's shops, which I didn't get to photograph as they were sealed due to us being in port.
The Bistro (which you can also see in the upper right-hand corner of the photo above), which, as said, is not actually a bistro but rather a café.
On the other side of the ship from The Bistro is the ship's well-stocked Library (blissfully, they didn't call it "The Crystal Library").
The Starlite Club is the ship's main entertainment venue apart from the Galaxy Lounge. But I just can't get past the fact it has a layout identical to the night club of Viking Line's Mariella. Okay, both ships were built by the same shipyard and all, but it does give me a vide that doesn't really fit a luxury cruise ship.
Not to mention that fact that the name Starlite Club is also direct from the Baltic ferry night club name catalogue.
That said, I really dig the design of Starlite Club's bar counter.
Aft of Starlite Club is the most exclusive of Crystal Symphony's rrestaurants, The Vintage Room, which offers "wine-themed dinners" to small groups. The decor matches the theme beautifully.
Aft of The Vintage Room is Silk Road. The entrance is not perhaps terrible impressive...
...but I rather dig the interior decor.
More Silk Road. I could make the criticism that the interior isn't particularly Japanese, but on the other hand the decor matches the Japanese-European fusion cusine served quite nicely.
The Sushi Bar is marked on deck plans as a separate restaurant, but it's actually just a bar inside Silk Road. The sushi was rather good though, as was everything else served in the venue.
While Silk Road in on the port side of the funnel casing, the starboard side has a series of small public rooms, starting with the Connoisseur Club smoking room seen here.
Another Connoisseur Club view. The air conditioning in the room was rather good, there was essentially no smell of tobacco in the room.
The next space afwards is Avenue Saloon. Crystal's website gives the impression this is one of the key spaces onboard, but to be fair it's faily small, though apparently popular.
Another Avenue Saloon view, looking aft and towards the bar.
Aft of Avenue Saloon there's first Computer University @ Sea (use of the @ sign for "at" is so embarrassing in 2016) and then the Bridge Lounge seen here.
Aft of Silk Road on the port side of the ship, but accessible from the starboard is Prego, the ship's Italian restaurant. To quote my wife "that look like the entrance to an ancient Greek mausoleum, not an Italian restaurant!" Impressive, though.
Inside, Prego looks much less morbid. I'm particularly fond of the multicoloured carpet.
The entrance area gives a really neat contrast to the rest of the interior.
Also, the food was rather fantastic. Both speciality restaurants onboard were really quite superb.
Deck 5 (Crystal Deck) has the medical center and some cabins forward, followed by the Crystal Plaza atrium and Crystal Cove, and the Crystal Dining Room amidships. Apart from a tender platform, deck five is the lowest passenger-accessible deck.
Another view of Crystal Plaza. The fountain actually consists of suspected threads, on which the water runs down, neatly keeping it from spraying all over.
Crystal Cove, adjacent to Crystal Plaza is a neat piano bar. Alas, I never had a chance to sample if the resident pianist was any good.
Aft of Crystal Plaza and Crystal Cove is the Crystal Dining Room (remember what I said about the superfluous Crystal prefixes?). Here is the entrance looking forward and hence outside the restaurant.
Inside, the Crystal Dining Room's decor didn't quite reach the level of the specialist restaurants. Alas, the same can also be said for the food, which was clearly below the specialist restaurant fare.

Thanks to Paul Garcia and Jaque Brown.

Kships will return.

20 May 2016

Crystal Symphony interiors: decks 12-7, 7-12 May 2016

Thanks to the fine people at Crystal Cruises, I had a chance to document all the public rooms of the Crystal Symphony during my recent cruise onboard her. Since this resulterd in almost 50 images I would like to publish, I've decided to break this tour into two parts. Today, we will look at decks twelve though seven, and the next time around we will tour the main public room decks, sis and five. Alas, this will not give anywhere near an even spread, as the vast majority of public rooms are on deck six, but since I want to give the usual top-to-bottom tour, it's the best I can do.

Crystal Symphony

IMO 9066667
Built 1995, Kvaerner Masa Yards Turku New Shipyard, Finland
Tonnage 51 044 GT
Length 238,01 m
Width 30,20 m
Draught 7,60 m
1 010 passengers
6 Sultzer diesels, combined 38 880 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 22 knots

But first, I little word about my overall impression of the interiors. A more cruise-experienced friend of mine warned before I left that I would be about to experience a very conservative cruise line. And he was absolutely right; not just when it came to the onboard product, but also the interior decor. On both accounts, I couldn't help but feel that Crystal's recently-developed public image as a fresh and dynamic cruise line was at odds with the interior (and the onboard product). But as far as the interiors go, I'll let you judge for yourselves.

All images are taken on 12 May 2016 while the Crystal Symphony was at Civitavecchia, except those marked otherwise. As per the usual, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Deck 12 (Sun Deck) consists mostly of outer decks circling the Lido areas, with golf driving nets, a putting green and a tennis court scattered around it, with the gym and spa aft, around the base of the funnel.
What better way to start than the builder's plate, which conviniently happens to be located at the base of the radar mast, forward on deck 12.
Overlooking the main pool area from up on deck 12.
One of the treatment rooms at the spa. Okay, the largest one, as it was the easiest the photograph with my equipment. The spa complex's definite highlight, which unfortunately I did not have a chance to photograph, was a Finnish sauna, authentic down to every detail. I may have indulged in the finnishness and spent two hours there...
Deck 11 (Lido Deck) has the Palm Court observation lounge forward, followed by children's playroom and teen's center, the main pool deck, the Trident Grill and Bar area, and the Lido Café buffet restaurant (the latter being somewhat oddly named, as a buffet is not a café - not the only case onboard the Crystal Symphony where the name of a space does not match the content, as you shall see in the next entry).
The Palm Court, looking starboard and aft over the dance floor.
A neat little piece of decór above the dance floor at Palm Court.
Most of the Plam Court. The colour scheme was perhaps a bit bland for my tastes, though the pillows were a nice touch of colour.
The Waves Teen Center was, without a doubt, most up my street of all the spaces onboard as far as the decor goes. Had I had more time, I would probably have checked out their video game collection too. (Yes, I'm 33 years old. Contrary to the popular belief, games aren't just for kids these days),
Mirroring the Teen Center on the starboard side of the ship is the Fantasia Children's Playroom. Alas, it looked a bit dull with all the toys cleared away. I did not see a single kid onboard, though based on audio information, there was at least one onboard.
...and aft of the Teen's/Children's lounges you have the main pool area.
I really like this sculpture overlooking the main (well, only) pool, with it's clear reference to the Crystal funnel symbol.
The former aft pool area was converted to a seating area for the new Trident Grill in a recent refit. With the magrodome closed even in warm weather, the space was stifling hot, at least to my Finnish sensibilities. And considering how few people there was always around, I can't help but think that removing the pool to create more seating was unnescessary.
The Lido Café which, as noted above, is not a café but a buffet. The decór was nice but very stereotypically cruise ship buffet.
Both indoors and outdoors seating was available. At least during the time I was onboard, the Lido Café was only open for breakfast and lunch, which meant the space was deserted for most of the day.
Purely a personal opinion, but I would very much have preferred longer lunch service. As it is, by the time I would start thinking of lunch around 3 PM, the buffet had already closed. Even more than that, I would have loved to have a buffet dinner, after a long day i rarely have the patience for a long, multi-course meal in a waiter-service restaurant.
Deck 10 (Penthouse Deck) has the navigation bridge forward, with the rest of the deck given over to penthouse suites and cabins (which, as far as I was able to discern, are penthouses only in the sense that they are on the topmost cabin deck).

Deck 9 (Seabreeze [sic!] Deck) consists entirely of cabins, or as Crystal calls them, deluxe staterooms.

Deck 8 (Horizon Deck) has more cabins, some of them with obstructed views. Here I can also give you a look inside one of them, as my own cabin, a Deluxe Statroom with Verandah, also happened to be on this deck.
Verandah cabin 8050, seen from the entrance towards the veranda (photographed on 7 May 2016).
A reverse view. This happens to be one of the cabins with a commuting door, allowing it to be combined with the neighbouring one. I recommend you avoid these if you can; the soundproofind onboard is otherwise excellent, but the door let's in a lot of sound. Such as the couple in the neighbouring cabin having, ahem, fun in the middle of the night. (I mean, good for them, but it did make sleeping a challenge).
Deck 7 (Promenade Deck) has more cabins, this time without verandas, and a wrap-around promenade outdoors. The promenade is set lower than the floor inside on the deck, so there is, fortunately, no direct view from the promenade deck to the cabins on the same deck.

For decks five and six, see here.

Special thanks to Paul Garcia and Jaque Brown.

Next time we'll complete the tour of the Crystal Symphony with looks at the bulk of the public rooms on decks six and five.