Princess Cruises – the cruise line that starred in The Love Boat back in the 1970s and '80s – celebrated Valentine's Day with a spectacular event at Fincantieri's shipyard in Trieste, Italy. In a first for the cruise industry, three historic milestones for three new 3660-passenger Princess ships were marked in one action-packed morning: the steel-cutting ceremony for the sixth Royal-class ship, RP6 – broadcast live from the yard in Naples – the keel-laying ceremony for Enchanted Princess and the official blessing of Sky Princess' recent float-out by the ship's madrina, or first godmother.
Although the setting couldn't be more contemporary – vast gantries and cranes tower above a construction site that looks like a giant Meccano set – these ceremonies are centuries old. And for the crowd of Princess VIPs, Fincantieri execs and workers and international media in attendance, witnessing them is as emotional, stirring and touched with superstition as I imagine it would have been in the days of the Vikings or Romans.
Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia group president, said she still gets goosebumps at every ceremonial stage of a ship's life, even after spending more than 20 years in the cruise business. During her career she has visited Fincantieri's yards "countless times – the company has built 19 Princess ships in the past 30 years". Swartz's grandfather ran shipyards in the US and she says whenever she visits one she feels his spirit: "The sea is in my blood."
In a nutshell, steel-cutting marks the first step in a new vessel's life – for RP6, that means the start of a three-year process that will culminate with the ship's maiden voyage in 2022.
Keel-laying once meant the placement of the "spine" at the bottom of a wooden ship, from which it was built upwards. Enchanted Princess' keel is a 500-tonne steel module that had a coin (in this case an Ocean Medallion) welded onto it while we watched, before it was blessed by a priest and craned noisily onto blocks several metres below. Enchanted Princess will make its maiden voyage mid-2020.
Sky Princess's madrina, whose role is to bless the ship when it is floated out of dry dock into water for the first time, is Royal Princess' second officer Kerry Ann Wright. She admitted to being nervous about smashing the bottle of champagne on the ship's hull – it's considered to be bad luck if it doesn't break – but Wright has risen through the ranks to the second-highest officer position in an extraordinarily short time, so clearly not much else fazes her. She will join Captain Michele Tuvo on board Sky Princess after its inaugural sailing from Trieste in October this year. See princess.com
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
WHO GOES THERE
Celebrity, CMV, HAL, Princess, Seabourn, NCL, Oceania, P&O UK, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Victory, Windstar
WHY WE LOVE IT
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the smallest province in Canada, covering a land mass of 5660 square kilometres with a population of about 153,000, but it played a key role in the foundation of Canada. In 1864, a meeting of elected officials was held in Charlottetown that led to the foundation of Canada as an independent country on July 1, 1867. Charlottetown's attractive historic district dates back to the 18th century and its colonial streets and public squares are now home to art galleries, upmarket shops and eateries. PEI became famous as the setting and inspiration for the children's novel Anne of Green Gables, written by islander Lucy Maud Montgomery. Fans can take numerous Anne-themed tours and trips around PEI, which showcase the pastoral landscapes, fishing villages, lighthouses and gabled houses portrayed in film and TV adaptations of Montgomery's novel. The island is also a favourite spot for golfers.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE?
Ships dock at Port Charlottetown, within easy walking distance of the town centre and the must-see sites listed below. Check out guided driving tours of PEI's east coast that take in 19th-century lighthouses, rugged beaches, breweries and the delightful Rossignol Estates winery.
In town, St Dunstan's Basilica, a national historic site; Government House, open for public tours in July and August; Orwell Corner Historic Village, a re-created 19th-century rural village; and Beaconsfield Historic House, one of several sites on the PEI Arts and Heritage trail.
PEI is well known for potatoes and lobster but the island's growing number of cafes, restaurants and bars serve the full gamut of fresh seafood and fish, along with locally produced beef, pork, vegetables and berries.
NEED TO KNOW
The cruise season runs from May to November and the climate is mild, with summer temperatures ranging from 20 to 34 degrees.
Carnival Cruise Line's 26th ship, Carnival Panorama, sets sail from California in December with the world's first indoor trampoline park at sea on board.
JEWEL IN THE CROWN
Asia river-cruise specialist Pandaw is launching three new itineraries in India in 2019 and 2020, covering most of the main waterways – the Lower Ganges river (Hooghly); the Upper Ganges river, as far as Varanasi; and the Brahmaputra river in Assam, from October 2020. Pandaw founder Paul Strachan says "India is the jewel in the crown for river cruising. There are no other rivers in the world where there is such a magnificent combination of cultural treasures and majestic beauty; no other country where river cruising offers the ultimate travel solution to see all in tranquillity and comfort." Pandaw will offer "combo cruises" of the Lower Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and in early 2020 its luxury motoryacht Andaman Explorer will operate combined Andaman coastal and Indian river cruises. See pandaw.com
TRAVELMARVEL 2020 PREVIEW
Travelmarvel is offering an array of earlybird specials in its 2020 Europe Preview brochure on journeys by river, ocean, land and rail. Next year's highlights include the arrival of the line's new 182-passenger Contemporary Class river ship for its 15-day European Gems cruises between Amsterdam and Budapest; rail-sail itineraries that combine Douro river cruises with train journeys through Spain, Morocco and France; and small-ship cruising in Croatia on board the 36-passenger motoryacht Princess Eleganza. Travelmarvel's Classic Class Diamond and Jewel ships, which sail in Europe, and MS Rossia, which sails in Russia, are all being fully refurbished. Book by April 30, 2019, for fly-free deals on all dates and cabins on all European Gems and Russia river cruises, and more. See travelmarvel.com.au
HOOKED ON CROCHET-CRUISING
The craft of crochet is enjoying a revival and two crochet-themed cruises last year proved so successful that another one is planned for this year. Sydney agency Cruise Express has put together a special package which it is hosting on board Celebrity Solstice's 12-night cruise from Sydney to Tasmania and New Zealand, departing on October 27, 2019. The crochet cruise will be led by three top crochet teachers and includes skill-building workshops, one-on-one teaching and a choice of three projects. Fares start from $3990 and include one night's accommodation in Auckland, flights from Auckland to Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, a walking tour of Hobart, an exclusive tour of Auckland's annual Fibrefest event and a crochet kit, valued at more than $1500. See cruiseexpress.com.au