Two ships are at anchor near Portofino, a superb fishing village on the Ligurian coast of Italy, a center of chic tourism. They are two yachts of about four thousand tons which each host less than 200 passengers. From the outside, the only difference between them is in color: dark blue for one, bright orange for the other. Inside, however, they could not be more different. The first, the SeaDream II, is a five and a half star ship, with everything is included in the price of the cruise, even alcool and aquatic equipment (such as jet ski, zodiak or kayak). The second ship, the easyCruise One, is like a floating youth hostel. It offers low cost and no service. A one-week cruise aboard the SeaDream II costs at least $2,500 per passenger, whereas it costs as little as $350 per person on the easyCruise One. What a difference!
Welcome aboard the first easyCruise ship, the first discount cruise line in the world. A subsidiary of the British empire easyGroup (to whom we owe easyJet, the first discount air travel company in Europe since 1995), easyCruise was created ten years later, in the summer of 2005. It offers a radically different version of cruising. You can board and disembark wherever you want, as long as you stay for at least two nights. The ship leaves the ports of call early in the morning, so that passengers can enjoy the nightlife. However, the ship arrives at the next port of call in the beginning of the afternoon, the worst moment to tour because of the heat.
If the difference between the traditional and discount airlines is minimal, it is huge between traditional cruise lines and easyCruise. Built in the 1990s, initially for the Greek shipowner Onassis, the easyCruise One has six decks and three restaurants, one of which is reserved for the crew, a small shop, a whirlpool, a small gym... and that's all. With a capacity of 170 passengers, the cabins are of a shocking minimalism, including the four suites on the upper deck. With a thin mattress on a slightly raised platform, it feels like one is sleeping on the floor. The shower and bathroom areas are separated only by a nearly transparent glass wall. There is no private wardrobe to put yours belongings, and the best you have is eight hangers suspended directly above one of the two mattresses (which are separated from each other by only a few inches).
Two towels per passenger are provided at the beginning of the cruise, but you must bring everything else, including your soap and glass. You will be billed about twelve dollars for cleaning your cabin and replacing the towels, about ten dollars for a full breakfast, between eight and twenty dollars for a fast-food meal, and six dollars for a drink or cocktail.
The quality and type of food offered did not make everyone happy. So much so, in fact, that the line announced an improved menu that includes more refined meals on the easyCruise Two, easyCruise's second ship that since August 2006 had offered a river cruise between Amsterdam and Brussels, with stops at Rotterdam, in Holland, and Antwerp, in Belgium. It shows easyCruise's new colors. The cheap orange is disappearing into a more sophisticated grey, adorned by a simple orange border.
On the easyCruise One, I was disappointed by the poor soundproofing of the cabins and the door mechanism, which made the doors slam every time they closed. Since most passengers come back to their cabin late, sleep quality was compromised many times a night. Especially since there are always idiots who talk too loudly in the corridors.
Despite the small cost of the cruise, the easyCruise One offers an interesting itinerary. During the summer of 2006, it sailed along the French and Italian Riviera, with one stop a day in Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco, Genova, Portofino and Imperia-San Remo. In the summer of 2007, it will sail through eleven Greek islands from Piraeus (Athens).
Last winter, easyCruise One sailed to Barbados and the neighbouring islands in the southern Caribbean. This 2006-2007 winter, it will sail from and around St-Marteen from December to April from about $400 (with taxes) for not one, but two passengers in an inside cabin!
EasyCruise targets customers in the twenty to forty year old age bracket. During my vacation, there were mostly singles in their early twenties and some couples in their early fifties. These two groups, who did not have much in common, rubbed elbows without really connecting. Friendly and smiling crew members served as the bridge between everyone. Those I spoke with were unanimous in their opinion that they prefered working on easyCruise One than on traditional cruise lines, where the work conditions are more rigid and the ambiance is less casual.
During my stay, easyCruise One had less than fifty percent occupancy. A crew member told me that was the norm for European cruises which mostly carry British and German passengers, although he quickly pointed out that during winter the ship is full of passengers, mostly from Latin America.
Confident in its future, easyCruise ordered in May 2006 two new ships that could carry 500 passengers each. They should reach the Greek islands and Dubai in the summer, and Florida and Bahamas in the winter.
|French Canadian cruise journalist Jean-Marc Papineau, and his daughter, Océane, prepare to board the Disney Wonder|
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1955, Jean-Marc Papineau is a reporter by training for thirty years. He has been editor-in-chief of some business, personal finances and technology magazines, all in his native language of French.
He has been cruising since 1985, his first cruise was on the Azur, a ship of the late French cruise line Les Croisières Paquet. He has traveled on ships ranging from 20,000 to 140,000 gross tons, from a dozen different cruise lines, mostly with his young daughter Océane.
After advising friends and family on how to choose and manage a cruise, Jean-Marc Papineau decided recently to prepare a helpful, affordable and independent guide book: the author was not invited on any cruise by any line.
CRUISING 101 is written by a passenger for the first-time or experienced cruise traveler looking for the best deal, the cruise line that best suits his or her lifestyle and the nicest cruise ships at the lowest prices.
For more information on the book, go to Cruising101.net
Jean-Marc has done more than twenty tourism reports on different countries on all continents, including Japanese ryokans, and lived for many months in French Polynesia, about ten years ago, to write a book, in French, about the lifestyle in this unique Pacific paradise.