There’s good news for fans of sailing out of Houston, Texas: Norwegian Cruise Line is back, and they’ve brought the beautiful Norwegian Jewel with them.

Norwegian Pearl's near-sister-ship, the Norwegian Jewel, at what would become our berth in Juneau. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Jewel, seen here in Juneau, Alaska, is sailing from Houston, Texas throughout the winter of 2014-15. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

From now until April 11, 2015, Norwegian Jewel will be sailing three different Western Caribbean itineraries roundtrip from the Bayport Cruise Terminal in Houston, Texas. It marks the first time Norwegian Cruise Line has returned to the region since withdrawing in 2008.

One of Norwegian Jewel’s new Western Caribbean itineraries from Houston:

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Day 1Houston, TexasEmbark Norwegian Jewel4:00 PM
Day 2At Sea
Day 3Cozumel, Mexico8:00 AM5:00 PM
Day 4Belize City, Belize8:00 AM6:00 PM
Day 5Roatan, Honduras8:00 AM4:00 PM
Day 6At Sea
Day 7At Sea
Day 8Houston, Texas8:00 AMDisembark

There’s a couple of advantages of sailing from the Port of Houston. Firstly, the city’s two main airports (George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby) are only 45 minutes to an hour away from the Houston Cruise Terminal. Most other cruises leaving from the great state of Texas do so from a city called Galveston – nearly 90 minutes away, if traffic is good.

The other advantage to sailing from Houston is that the port is located right in Houston itself – meaning more shops, hotels, and restaurants. It’s not a knock on Galveston at all, but for those who are travelling significant distances to reach Houston in the first place, it’s nice to not have to travel even further to reach the Norwegian Jewel.

Cozumel, Mexico as seen from onboard Grandeur of the Seas. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Cozumel, Mexico is a featured port of call on Norwegian Jewel’s Western Caribbean sailings from Houston. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Cruise Line has a long history of sailing out of Houston; the line used to use the city as their homebase for their popular “Texaribbean” sailings to the Western Caribbean, first aboard Norwegian Sea, then aboard Norwegian Dream. While the official title of Norwegian Jewel’s sailings read as “7-Day Western Caribbean from Houston”, longtime Norwegian Cruise Line fans can pretty much call this a return to the glory days of the Texaribbean cruise – just with a larger, more modern ship operating the run.

Capable of carrying 2,376 guests, the Norwegian Jewel is the lead ship in Norwegian’s highly-successful Jewel Class of cruise ships that also includes Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jade, and Norwegian Gem. At 965 feet in length, they’re plenty big, offering dozens of different restaurants, bars and lounges. But they’re still small enough to offer lots of intimate little spaces and plenty of room for guests onboard.

Click here to read our full Live Voyage Report from onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl in Alaska!

Staterooms range from comfortable and economical 143-square foot Inside Staterooms to the top-of-the-line suites found in The Haven, Norwegian’s luxury ship-within-a-ship concept. There are four different varieties of Haven Suites aboard Norwegian Jewel, the largest of which spans an amazing 4,891 square feet spread across three separate bedrooms, a spacious living area with a commanding view of the Pool Deck, a private Jacuzzi, and even a grand piano. Naturally, luxuries like this come with full concierge and butler service.

Bar Central aboard the Norwegian Pearl, Deck 6, is one of my favorite spaces onboard thanks to its cozy atmosphere and plush seating. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Bar Central aboard Norwegian Jewel’s near-sister,  Norwegian Pearl. Despite being large ships, there’s still plenty of unique and intimate spaces to suit every personal taste onboard. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

That, really, is Norwegian’s strongest suit: they’ve spent decades perfecting their unique style of mainstream cruising, adding in numerous options to suit every style, taste and budget surrounded by an onboard environment that is fun, welcoming and inviting, yet increasingly more upscale than Norwegian has perhaps been known for.

More details on Norwegian Jewel’s Houston deployment can be found by visiting the Norwegian Cruise Line website.

 

 

Silversea’s Silver Galapagos – In Pictures

Silversea's Silver Galapagos is seen here at anchor off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silversea’s Silver Galapagos is seen here at anchor off San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In September of 2013, ultra-luxury line Silversea took delivery of their second vessel for their Silversea Expeditions arm. In her past life, she was one of the most lauded luxury ships. Now, thanks to a series of substantial refits performed in 2013 and 2014, Silversea’s Silver Galapagos is well on her way to reclaiming that lofty title.

Sailing year-round in the Galapagos, Silver Galapagos began life as Renaissance Cruises’ Renaissance Three. Launched in 1990, the diminutive luxury ship would remain in the fleet until 1998, when she was sold to Canodros S.A. for service sailing around the Galapagos Islands.

Click here to read our full Live Voyage Report from onboard Silver Galapagos!

As Silversea discovered during their first year of operations, sailing in the Galapagos is no cakewalk. There are unique restrictions placed on everything from the crew of the ship right down to the kinds of toiletries you can bring onboard. Nearly everything onboard must be sourced from the Galapagos Islands or Ecuador. Failing that, the only other possibilities are other South American countries like Argentina or Brazil. In other words – don’t expect to have your favorite French champagne onboard; it won’t be there.

For her small size, Silver Galapagos has many wonderful ocean-liner-esque qualities to her. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

For her small size, Silver Galapagos has many wonderful ocean-liner-esque qualities to her. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Every cruise line operating in the Galapagos must play within the same sandbox, and Silversea is no exception. What the line does better than anyone else in the region is to push the envelope and offer more amenities, features, and – to be honest – open deck space than their competitors. Ultra-luxury voyages to the Galapagos just don’t exist, and Silversea is literally creating an entire market where there previously was none.

Silver Galapagos at anchor off Punta Espinoza, Galapagos. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silver Galapagos at anchor off Punta Espinoza, Galapagos. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There have been growing pains, yes. But the stunning beauty of the Galapagos Islands are now complemented by the newly-refurbished Silver Galapagos; a ship that now looks better than she has at any point in time in the last decade.

Better still, Silversea is just getting started. Let’s take a look at the newly-refurbished Silver Galapagos as she appeared in October 2014.

DECK 2

The Restaraunt

The Restaurant on Deck 2 doesn't span the width of the Silver Galapagos. Instead, it occupies a cozy area that runs along the port side of the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Restaurant on Deck 2 doesn’t span the width of the Silver Galapagos. Instead, it occupies a cozy area that runs along the port side of the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This is the lowest passenger-accessible deck onboard Silver Galapagos. It houses the ship’s main Restaurant, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – though, on my sailing, it was only truly utilised for breakfast and lunch, with most guests preferring to lunch topside at The Grill on Deck 5.

Unlike most shipboard dining rooms, The Restaurant aboard Silver Galapagos does not span the full width of the ship. Instead, it occupies a small corridor of space running along the port side of the vessel. Large picture windows, split into three separate panes, let ample light into the room, though the décor composed of brown-on-brown-on-brown can be a little hard on the eyes. Still, this is a room that looks far better in person than it does in photographs, and by night it is exactly what a good dining room should be: warm, intimate and inviting.

Numerous different seating options are available here, and the entire passenger complement can be accommodated at once. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Numerous different seating options are available here, and the entire passenger complement can be accommodated at once. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Food served here is mainly Ecuadorian-style cuisine with North American and European touches. You can expect to see traditional Ecuadorian seafood soup grace the menu at least one night, and even Ostrich is served on occasion. Be sure to try both; they’re tremendous.

The remainder of Deck 2 is taken up by seven Explorer Suites. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The remainder of Deck 2 is taken up by seven Explorer Suites. Note the brand new stateroom doors and wall treatments; passenger corridors used to be dark and entirely paneled with cherrywood. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The remainder of Deck 2 is taken up with seven Explorer Suites, all of which feature three porthole windows apiece and measure 210 to 240 square feet, depending on configuration.

Click here to continue reading!

Click here to read our full Live Voyage Report from onboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos as she sails her Western Galapagos itinerary! More information on Silver Galapagos can be found by visiting the Silversea Expeditions website.

 

Whenever I cruise, I like to try to sail on as many different ships as possible. To-date, I’ve sailed on everything from an eight-passenger sailing ship to a massive 4,500-guest megaship. Since we’re in to fall, like many of you, I’m trying to figure out just where it is I want to sail next year – and how I want to get there. Of all the different types of cruises in the world, there’s one I’ve got my eyes stet on.

Cargo ships.

CMA CGM MARCO POLO is one of the largest cargo ships in the world - and you can sail aboard her. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

CMA CGM MARCO POLO is one of the largest cargo ships in the world – and you can sail aboard her. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

Yes, you too can sail aboard a cargo ship destined for far-off places. Why would you want to? The answer to that is simple: because you can.

Personally, I want to sail aboard a cargo ship for two reasons. First and foremost, I selfishly think it’d be a cool experience. How many people have the opportunity to watch freight being loaded and unloaded in port, or to see what goes on aboard a working vessel? How many people can say they’ve really set out on a voyage “with a purpose”? That ship has to get from Point A to Point B, no matter what the cost. That can mean storms, high winds and heavy seas. What these ships lack in amenities, they make up for in adventure.

The second reason I want to sail aboard a cargo ship is because, compared to cruise ships, I know little to nothing about cargo cruises – other than the fact that specialised agencies offer cargo cruises around the world on ships big and small. One of the world’s largest cargo shipping lines, CMA CGM even wrote about cargo cruising on their own blog.

Guest lounge aboard the CMA CGM MARCO POLO. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

Guest lounge aboard the CMA CGM MARCO POLO. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

Here’s where things get really interesting: if you think cruise ships are big, try a container ship. CMA CGM’s CMA CGM MARCO POLO is one of the largest ships in the world, measuring 1,299 feet in length. She’s 175 feet wide, and has an amazing 52 feet of draught, which is the amount of hull that exists below the waterline. She can move through the water at an amazing 25 knots, where most cruise ships sail at around 20 to 22 knots. She was launched less than two years ago, on November 5, 2012.

To put that in perspective, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 – a beautiful behemoth of a ship – is “only” 1,132 feet long and 147.5 feet wide at the extreme reaches of her bridge wings. So container ship cruising doesn’t have to mean sailing on a small vessel. Far from it. A container ship might be the largest ship you ever sail aboard.

Staterooms aboard CMA CGM MARCO POLO are more spacious than you might think. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

Staterooms aboard CMA CGM MARCO POLO are more spacious than you might think. Photo courtesy of CMA CGM.

Meals are taken with the ship’s Captain and his navigation team, and prepared by the onboard Chef. Most cargo ships have modern staterooms that range from functional to larger-than-average, and all have day lounges for guests to enjoy. A few even boast libraries, fitness centres and a swimming pool.

While the price is affordable – usually around €100 per day – the caveat is that these voyages can be quite long. A month or so at sea wouldn’t be uncommon.

Will we do a Live Voyage Report from onboard a cargo ship someday? I’d say it’s highly possible. This interesting way of cruising is rapidly moving up the ranks on my bucket list!

Have a peek at CMA CGM’s blog post on cargo ship cruising by clicking here. From the Deck Chair will return Monday.

 

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