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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


SHIP PROFILE

Airtours

MS Sundbird

TravelPage.com Rating:Four Stars
Submit your review hereSubmit your review
Operator: Airtours Cruise Line
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1982 / 2000
Length / Tonnage: 705 / 37,584
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 707 / 1,600
Officers / Crew: Norwegian / International
Operating Area: Year round Europe and Caribbean
Telephone / Fax: Tel 131 3507 / Fax 131 3507

Review by Malcolm Oliver, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor - Europe

Today, My Travel plc (formerly Airtours plc) is a major player for air-inclusive holidays and other leisure travel services in the UK, Northern Europe, Germany and North America. In the year of writing (02), My Travel's fleet of four ships takes more than 84,000 people on cruises to 43 ports around the world.

The Airtours story began in 1972, when entrepreneur, David Crossland purchased Pendle Travel Services, a travel agency business comprising of just two stores in Lancashire. A second travel agency business was acquired shortly after from Albert and Ivy Roberts who had registered it using their initials, A.I.R. Tours. The Airtours name was born.

The business expanded and in 1980 they developed their first package holidays. These offered value for money, encouraging people to holiday abroad - often for the first time. However, the story really begins when Airtours floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1987 with a market capitalisation of £28m. In March 1991 Airtours' own airline began commercial flying.

By 1992 Airtours had created a chain of 712 'Going Places' Travel Agent shops, which quickly gained a presence in most of the UK's main shopping centres.

In April 1994 the cruises division of Airtours was founded to provide British holidaymakers with air and sea vacation packages at affordable rates. The cruise liner, MS Seawing was acquired, shortly to be followed by MS Carousel, for a sell-out programme of fly-cruises, which started operating from summer 1995. The Going Places Travel Agencies played a key role in promoting the cruises.

In 1996, Airtours announced an agreement with Carnival Corporation where Carnival would acquire 29 per cent of Airtour shares. The Group also acquired a third cruise ship, MS Sundream. In 1997, Airtours acquired a stake in Costa Crociere, the world's fourth largest cruise business specialising in Mediterranean cruising. In 1999, they acquired their fourth ship named MS Sunbird.

In February 2002 the new name of 'My Travel plc' was adopted by all the former Airtours brands, with a change of livery.

Overview
You cannot compare chalk and cheese, but the critics often try. My Travel is a budget cruise line, not a premium one. In fact in their brochure, My Travel describes themselves "as the number one in affordable cruising". If you pay $1,000 for a MY Travel cruise, it is unfair to draw direct comparisons with the standards on a cruise line charging $2,000!

The My Travel brochure is very family friendly, with some good child discounts and deals for singles. There are lots of 'cruise and stay' options to bolt on to the many cruise itineraries. My Travel gives you a number of options when choosing your holiday, but they all come at an extra cost. The Ship: If you want to reserve a specific cabin number on the ship, rather than just a grade, you will be charged £50 for the privilege. The Flight: If you want the extra leg room offered by an emergency exit, you will be charged up to £40 ($60).

My Travel offer an 'all inclusive' alcoholic drinks package for around £160 ($233) per week. However, this applies to selected brands only. You will obviously need to be pretty serious about your drinking to get your monies worth. There is also a kid's Ice cream and soft drink package at a cost of about £50 ($73) per week.

My Travel will also add the insurance premium to your holiday and charge you for it, unless you tell them otherwise. You may well be able to buy cheaper insurance elsewhere? My travel has a no tipping policy, although many passengers still give a little extra to those staff who provide exceptional service.

My Travel's operation is a little reminiscent of Carnival Cruise Line, in the early years. Three of My Travel's fleet of four ships are over 30 years old. They are all small by modern standards with a high passenger density. In other words they pack the passengers in - that's how they keep the fares low. Don't expect an intimate atmosphere, because you will experience a party one.

The cabins of the MY Travel fleet in general are a little small, and the choice of public rooms can be limited on some of the ships. This can make them feel crowded at peak times. It is probably fair to say that the food, service and entertainment reflect the low fare that is paid. However, despite these negative observations, My Travel has many very satisfied customers.

The Mv Sunbird entered service in 1982 as Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's 'Song of America'. Airtours began operating her in May 1999. Surprisingly Airtours were permitted to retain the distinctive Royal Caribbean trademark; the 'Viking Crown' observation lounge, which surrounds the funnel. It is now renamed the chart Room Lounge. Sunbird is the youngest, biggest and newest addition to the MY Travel fleet. In fact she is approximately a decade younger than her fleet mates. Sunbird is a 37,584 gross tons and has a maximum passenger capacity of 1595, divided between the 716 cabins. Her passenger to space ratio is better than her fleet mates. There are eleven passenger decks, but no single cabins, wheelchair accessible cabins or balcony cabins. There are seven elevators.

MY Travel has really pulled out all of the stops out with Sunbird. This ship does not suffer from many of the problems which plague the other ships in the fleet - old ships, small cabins, limited lounges and overcrowding etc. She is clean and well maintained.

The ship has bright décor with the public rooms mainly having a musical theme. There is one main dinning room, six lounges, one casino, two outdoor pools, a sauna/massage, conference room, photo gallery, fitness room and a library. There are no whirlpools, indoor pools, or a Cinema.

Sunbird is a very attractive ship. Her white hull and distinctive funnel/lounge creates a distinctive profile. In fact I think she will one day be regarded as a classic. She has a reasonable amount of polished wood deck space for sun bathing. However, the deck can still get busy in fine weather.

My travel has a no tipping policy, although many passengers still give a little extra to those staff who provide exceptional service. Full travel insurance is also included in the fare. The onboard currency is sterling.

Public Areas
Sunbird has six public lounges, providing more choice than aboard her older fleet mates. The public rooms are mainly located on two decks.

The 'Oklahoma Lounge' is located aft on the Cabaret Deck. It is best described as a large ballroom and overlooks the ships stern. Amidships on this deck is the 'Can Can Lounge', which is used primarily as a show lounge, as is the most spacious with large stage and dance floor. Located in between both Lounges is a conference room, the photo gallery and the Casino Royale. There are also some cabins towards the stern of this deck. The 'Neptunes' Disco/Bar lounge is located on the Promenade deck, along with some more cabins. The Casino is of a reasonably size, reasonably priced, and stays open until late. There is also some more intimate spaces such as the Clipper Bar onboard, featuring solo entertainment, such as piano.

The 'Chart Room', which is suspended high up the funnel, is the perfect place to watch the world pass by. It has an attractive circular bar to help the hours pass. The Library was been described by a passenger as 'cute', which could be translated into 'small'.

The Entertainment offered is perhaps one of the most subjective aspects of the MY Travel operation. Many passengers regard it as excellent, while others regard it as amateurish and 'holiday camp' style, relying too heavily on the multi-skilled social staff. The entertainment staff certainly do work very hard.

Dining
The Sunbird pre-dates freestyle dining. The main dining room is located on the main deck, along with the gift shops and some cabins. It is called the 'Seven Seas', which is an elegant room with an in an art deco style with attractive wood paneling and lighting. It can accommodate nearly 600 passengers at each of its two sittings. It comprises of one large room with a long narrow wings called the 'Ambassador Room' and the 'Oriental terrace', respectively. There are large ocean view windows and a low ceiling which can increase the noise levels.

The dining room waiters try hard to please.

There are many large tables, but none for two. Seating is allocated by the cruise line, so you have little real choice. The food is very good and plentiful, although the menus are not particularly challenging. There is a good choice of wines at a range of prices. The lido dining area provides informal alternative dining for all meal times. The service is quick and efficient with minimal lines which plague some other vessels.

Cabins
The cabins are divided into five grades: L-Shape Twin, Parallel Twin Double, Deluxe, Penthouse Suite and Grand Penthouse Suite. There is a choice of inside and outside, for the first two grades. Most of the basic cabins are of a similar size which can best be described as compact. The storage space and sound insulation is poor. The bathrooms are 'tight'. However these cabins are adequate.

If you are claustrophobic, there are seven Penthouse Suites and two grand Penthouse Suites with balcony were added above the bridge, providing the highest grade of accommodation. A butler service is provided. There is a seating area in these cabins, and you can be served the full dining-room menu in-cabin. However, a Suite will cost you almost three times as much as a basic inside cabin. There are twenty one deluxe cabins on the promenade deck, if you cannot run to a suite.

The My Travel brochure offers some tempting half price cabin upgrades. If you want to book a specific cabin number in advance, not just the grade, My Travel makes up to a £50 charge!

The voltage is 110v so the Brits may need adaptors to power their shavers etc. Unlike the other ships in the My Travel fleet, Sunbirds cabins do have TV's, but they are only the 13 inch variety. Twenty four hour room service is available in all cabins at an extra charge.

Who Goes
Sunbird cruises are extremely popular with first-time cruisers. They appeal to a wide age range of budget conscious travellers, including families with children. The majority of passengers are British and Canadian, although other nationalities are represented. The average passenger age range is around 45 years, which is considerably younger than some other British based cruise lines.

Itinerary
Sunbird offers a series of fly cruises from UK airports.

In the spring and summer, Sunbird cruises the Mediterranean. In the winter she cruises the Eastern and Western the Caribbean.

From May to October 2002, Sunbird offers two seven 7 night itineraries to the Mediterranean, which are both round trips from Palma, Majorca. Both itineraries can be combined to provide a 14 night cruise. Cruise and stay options are available.

On 17th November, Sunbird makes a 14 night transatlantic crossing from Tenerife to the Jamaica. She then offer three different 14 night round-trip itineraries from Jamacia, with various ports of call including Cozumel, grand Cayman, Nassau, Freeport, Florida, New Orleans , Cuba and Costa Rica. Between January and April 02, there are three different 7 night round trip itineraries from Jamaica. Ports of call include the Dominican Republic, St.Maarten and Tortola .

From April 2003 to October 2003, Sunbird introduces an interesting new concept, 'freedom Cruises' which include overnight stays in Mediterranean cites. These are "a chance to enjoy unforgettable nights evenings out", as the brochure puts it! There are two 7 night round-trip itineraries from Palma, Majorca, featuring overnight stops in Ibiza and Barcelona. There is a new series of 3, 4, and 7 night round-trip, 'Mediterranean Tasters' from Palma. Cruise and stay options are available.

A wide variety of cruise and stay options are available for some of Sunbird's cruises.

The HEAVY WORD
'My Travel' is a relative newcomer to the world of cruising. They do not have the biggest or newest ships and they do not offer the highest quality food, service or entertainment. It is very easy to criticise them. However, they do not charge the highest fares either - in fact they offer some of the cheapest deals available in the United Kingdom.

Thousands of first time UK cruisers choose to cut their maritime teeth with My Travel. They usually return home completely satisfied with the experience, invariably feeling that they have had very good value for money. Although here at Travelpage, we rarely see a poor Readers review of MY Travels cruises, Sunbird receives some of the best reviews of the fleet. Passengers often rave about the food, service and entertainment. In fact many of them return home to immediately book another cruise on the Sunbird. Even the most severe critics of My Travel's fleet agree that sunbird really is the flag-ship. For these reasons we have rated Sunbird as four stars, while the other ships in the MY Travel fleet are rated two and half stars.

So is a 'My Travel' cruise for you? If you are an experience cruiser or expect the highest standards of pampering and luxury, you should definitely choose another cruise line. They will only be too happy to charge you accordingly. If you are British, a first-timer and/or your main criterion is value for money, you are unlikely to be disappointed with My Travel and Sunbird.

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