The 4004-passenger Norwegian Bliss has claimed the title of the biggest passenger ship to transit the Panama Canal.
Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Cruise Line's 16th ship, was christened in suitably splashy style in Seattle at the end of May after a six-week pre-inaugural tour that started in Bremerhaven, Germany, and included mini-cruises out of New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Along the way, the 4004-passenger Norwegian Bliss claimed the title of the biggest passenger ship to transit the Panama Canal; it is also the biggest ship to be christened in Seattle, the ship's summer homeport for its Alaska cruises.
In keeping with NCL's 51-year reputation for making waves in the cruise industry, Bliss has a male godparent, high-profile US radio personality Elvis Duran.
"Elvis Duran epitomises the high-energy and liveliness that the ship represents and we're very excited to have him join the family as godfather to Norwegian Bliss," says Andy Stuart, NCL's president and chief executive.
Norwegian Bliss is the third in the line's Breakaway-Plus class. Norwegian Joy launched last year exclusively for the Chinese market and Norwegian Escape, which also has a godfather – rap star Pitbull – arrived in 2015. A fourth, Norwegian Encore, is due in 2019. NCL says the Breakaway-Plus class is its most successful yet; Norwegian Bliss brings a slew of first-at-sea features as well as the best elements of Breakaway-class ships Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway.
Among Bliss' spectacular new features are a two-deck go-kart race track (bigger than the one that made its debut on Norwegian Joy and great value fun at $US7 a session); the massive and very elegant Observation Lounge, which has 180-degree views from its floor to ceiling windows; a correspondingly amazing Observation Lounge in the exclusive Haven enclave; and a space-themed laser tag course.
New-to-NCL eateries include Q, a Texas-style barbecue joint where live country-rock bands perform in the evening; The Local – a 24/7 pub-style venue that serves an array of beers and comfort food; and Coco's, the go-to spot for indulging in all manner of chocolate treats. Starbucks is another first on Bliss. As an Australian coffee snob my visits to Starbucks are few and far between and from my experience on the Los Angeles preview cruise, the baristas and coffees could do with some Down Under-style speed and taste input.
The A-List Bar is also new to Bliss. Named after Stuart, whose family all have names beginning with A, it is a stylish spot for sampling creative cocktails. And there are lots more bars to explore, not to mention numerous dining and entertainment venues and possibly the most beautiful spa at sea, Mandara.
Stay tuned for snapshots from my two-day whistle-stop cruise of Norwegian Bliss and check out ncl.com/au
Sally Macmillan was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line.
THE PORT Seville, Spain
WHO GOES THERE Azamara, Fred. Olsen, Hapag-Lloyd, Oceania, Scenic, SeaDream, Silversea, Variety Cruises, Voyages to Antiquity.
WHY WE LOVE IT The capital of Andalusia is so hot right now – weather-wise and for its many attractions, historic and contemporary. It's a city of broad boulevards, medieval laneways, Moorish architecture, spacious squares and lovely parks; at night tapas bars and outdoor eateries are busy and buzzy. Arriving by ship along the Guadalquivir River offers spectacular views of Seville and the surrounding wetlands of Donana National Park.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Only small ships can navigate the Guadalquivir River and they dock at the Muelle de las Delicias (Quay of Delights) in the city centre. Bigger ships dock at Cadiz, about 120 kilometres away on the Atlantic coast, and provide day trips to Seville. A full day trip to Granada from Seville to see the Alhambra Palace is a tempting option but there's plenty to see and do in the city if you only have a day there. Take a guided cycling tour or hire bikes from the extensive public Sevici system, join a walking tour (free ones are offered by Heart of Sevilla, heartofsevilla.com , board a horse-drawn carriage or take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour.
MUST SEE UNESCO World Heritage sites Archive of the Indies, Real Alcazar, the Giralda tower and the vast Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Sede. Other must-sees include the 18th-century Royal Tobacco Factory, now the University of Seville; the grandiose Plaza de Espana, set in Maria Luisa Park; and a flamenco show.
MUST EAT Traditional tapas dishes include Iberian ham, local cheeses, spinach and chickpea stew, gazpacho, prawns, grilled squid, fried cod, flamenco-style eggs and, for the dedicated carnivore, Sevillian tripe. For freshly fried takeaway fish snacks served in paper cones, look for a freidurias cafe.
NEED TO KNOW Seville's climate is hot and dry. Temperatures peak in July and August and can reach 45 degrees, although the average maximum for summer is 36. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen and take your refillable water bottle with you.
Peregrine Adventures, which launched small-ship adventure cruises in Europe last year, has experienced a 35 per cent growth in adventure cruise bookings in the past six months.
CMV WORLD CRUISES
Cruise & Maritime Voyages was established in the UK in 2010 and now operates six small- to mid-size ocean ships on a variety of budget-friendly itineraries. The 600-passenger Astor has been sailing between England and Australia for six years, spending the summer based in Fremantle; it will set sail from London (Tilbury) in October 2018 for another season in Western Australia. Vasco da Gama (formerly Pacific Eden) joins the CMV fleet in April 2019 and will sail to Australia in October 2019 and CMV has just announced that its flagship Columbus (formerly Pacific Pearl) will make a 120-night world voyage in October 2020. Fares for this cruise start from $135 a person a night twin share; check the website for special offers available until July 31. See cmvaustralia.com
MSC SEAVIEW SETS SAIL
Sophia Loren, who has been godmother to all MSC Cruises' ships since 2003, is doing the honours again for the newest member of the fleet, MSC Seaview. The ceremony takes place in Genoa at the weekend and the ship will then sail in the Western Mediterranean until November 2018, when it heads off to South America. MSC Seaview is the rapidly expanding line's 15th ship and is a sister to the recently launched MSC Seaside. Highlights of the 5429-passenger Seaview include award-winning Spanish chef Ramon Freixa's first restaurant at sea, Ocean Cay by Ramon Freixa; the Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi, which made its debut on Seaside; and a promenade deck featuring alfresco restaurants and bars that circles the entire ship. See msccruises.com.au/en-au/Homepage.aspx