MAI BINE UN YODLER DECAT UN BRAULET DE TELEORMAN

•March 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Selectia Nationala EUROVISION 2017 – pas cu pas, grimasa cu grimasa

In mai toate tarile cu “scaun la cap” Eurovision-ul a incetat de mult sa fie o miza … este un eveniment, un program TV sauchiar istorie (care intre noi fie vorba, s-a oprit undeva pe la inceputul anilor ’90). Tocmai de aceea unii membrii EBU plaseaza competitia cantecului european in lista cu “rele necesare”: nu cheltuim mult, facem audienta bunicica si oricum nimeni nu isi aduce aminte de melodia sau castigatorul de anul trecut.

Exista insa tari pentru care Eurovision-ul e o drama nationala cu repetitie in care se investesc bani, energii, orgolii, pasiuni, incrancenari. E clar ca Rusia vrea sa dea peste bot Ucrainei, este evident ca tarile din partea asiatica a fostei URSS vor sa arate ca pot si mai ales ca au cu ce, iar San Marino se bucura ca se mai arata si harta tarii la televizor pe plan European.

Romania se incadreaza in ultima categorie. Sa fim sinceri un mare procentaj de telespectatori tricolori nu prea stiu mare lucru despre Festivalul Cantecului European, dar cu totii am cerut doliu national cand, pe buna dreptate, am fost suspendati din competitie anul trecut.  Nu e un secret pentru nimeni ca organizatorul, Televiziunea Romana, sta tare prost, borderline dezastruos, cu banii; dar in loc sa facem ca BBC-ul, o singura transmisie TV, de vreo 60-70 de minute cu 5 melodii, in Dorbanilor 191 se organizeaza selectii peste preselectii, emisiuni dupa emisiuni, de parca scopul actual al institutiei este sa-si umple spatiu de emisie. Nu conteaza cu ce, sigla de Eurovision sa aiba!

1

Si uite asa duminica seara am vazut editia 2017 a travaliului lumii muzicala autohtone pentru a urca pe scena de la Kiev si a sta acolo macar pana la finala.

Juriul de anul acesta a avut mult de munca; nu neaparat din cazua numarului mare de piese inscrise ci multumita alambicatul algoritm al alegerii melodiei care ne reprezinta la Kiev. Mult zgomot pentru nimic asa cum va demonstra rezultatul. Juratii: Paula Seling, Luminiţa Anghel, Ovi Jacobsen, Adrian Romcescu şi Andrei Tudor sunt oamenii cu greutate in tot ceea ce inseamna  fenomenul Festivalului  Cantecului European. Paula si Luminita, lasand la o parte vocile uriase si scorurile din anii precedenti,  puteau gasi concurentii cu “fata” de scena de la Kiev care pot sustine o partitura live sub enorma presiune a emotiilor. Adrian Romcescu şi Andrei Tudor fac parte din doua generatii de compozitori diferite si impreuna puteau identifica melodia care sa ne duca macar in finala. Iar Ovi era perfect ca al 5-lea membru al juriului in cazul in care exista un balotaj.

Deci atuurile pentru o alegere buna existau…rezultatul insa…o fi vorba de o alta ordonanta in si bemol data in buza noptii? Dar sa nu anticipam…

M-am bucurat grozav de locatia aleasa pentru finala de duminica. Atunci cand nu ai un buget generos si decat sa risti sa ai pe scena un partid politic, chiar daca il ai in culise (va aduceti aminte de scena de anul trecut cu primarul de la Baia Mare care in timpul ceremoniei de anuntare a castigatorului isi salute prietenul cu restaurant din Spania?) studioul TVR creaza perimetru unui show perfect.

Si asa a si fost. Fara artificii de décor dar cu o lumina si un sunet de zile mari, cu miscari de camera si taieturi moderne si interesante si cu o dinamica ce te tintuie pe scaun Selectia Nationala Eurovision 2017 a fost fara indoiala cea mai buna din ultimii ani. Poate cineva, acolo sus…sau jos…va realiza saptamana asta ce profesionisti adevarati sunt in Dorbantilor 191 si ca daca tot trebuie sa reduce personalul ar fi bine sa incepi de prin birouri si nu de prin studiouri. Aurel Badea a demonstrate a fi la inlatime, chiar mai sus decat realizarile sale tv precedente si daca m-ar intreba cineva, pentru selectia de la anul as vedea un mega show, cu buget restrans, bazat pe lumini de exceptie, sunet de tinuta si creierele lui Aurel Badea si Dan Manoliu. Dar cum nu ma intreaba nimeni, mai bine tac!

Momentul de deschidere cu cei de la SuperChill a fost interesant si o idee buna pentru un inceput de emisie.Cred ca singurul lucru care ma deranja era scena cam mica si impresia ca trupa pregatise si repetase momentul pentru un spatiu mult mai generos.

Sa-i pui pe finalisti sa cante…ok,  mimeze, melodii eurovizionistice din anii trecuti, a fost un risc asumat si un esec anuntat. Ideea lansata prin anii 90’ la o selectie nationala a beficiat atunci de voci adevarate: Monica Anghel, Dan Bitman, Luminita Anghel, Loredana Groza. Anul acesta, minutele dureroase cand am fost fortat sa ascult cantece care-mi plac masacrate cu gratie si A-muzicalitate de majoritatea finalistilor, mi-a dat numai sansa sa realizez din prima, cine are si cine nu are voce. MAXIM, Ana Maria, Mihai voi faceti parte din lista exceptiilor. Si asa, ca cireasa pe tort sau ca sarea pe rana deschisa, cei trei prezentatori au disecat fara anestezia melodia cantata de Toto Cutugno in 1990, Insieme. Dar ma rog, de la ei nu poti avea nici o pretentie, nu sunt cantareti…in adevaratul sens al cuvantului.

3

Prezentatorii…da…formula obisnuita: 3 pentru a acoperi spatiul scenei si eventual al camerei verzi. Datorita sau din cauza, depinde cum vreti, orgoliului pe scena a incaput numai un prezentator si inghesiuala s-a marcat backstage.

Iuliana Tudor este o prezenta nelipsita de pe ecranele TVR. Si nu stiu neaparat daca este un lucru bun. Mi-au trebuit minute bune sa realizez ca al treilea prezentator este Iuliana Tudor. A fost si greu cu look-ul jumatate Anca Turcasiu la Mamaia 80’, jumatate Ramona Badescu la OTV langa Pepe. Pana la urma am realizat ca este “TVR sweetheart” care , pentru urmatoarele minute va demonstrate, INCA O DATA, ce inventie genial este ingineria genetica pentru TVR, combinand Andreea Marin cu Iuliana Marciuc. dar lasand la o parte lucrurile bune din cele doua vedete-stem TV. Iuliana este un prezentator bun, constant bun, constant indiferent daca prezinta “O data-n viata”, spectacolul aniversar Craiul Muntilor, Eurovision sau un bal popular al primariei,  indoor sau outdoor. Poate o singura, minuscula critica: data viitoare poate rogi pe cineva Iuliana, sa iti scrie pe promter si dialogurile “libere” cu publicul. Modelul tau, “Zana Surprizelor”, era excelenta de la un cap la altul, inclusive la discutiile “out of script”. In alta ordine de idei, ideea cu dialoguri in si cu publicul suna asa ca venita pe filiera Marina Almasan, program de vacanta 1990+. Revenind la Iuliana,  cineva m-a intrebat de ce naiba a acceptat sa prezinte selectia nationala 2017. Explicatia e simpla: Andreea Marin se reintoarce in forta pe micile ecrane la ProTV si Iuliana trebuie sa traga tare pe ultima suta de metri. Cand ai de ales intre copie si original, optiunea va fi evidenta, nu?

medium_2017-03-c264524ad2

Dan Helciug a fost o alta surpriza. Initial, vizionand celalate emisiuni dedicate Eurovision 2017 ma gandeam ca producatorii se vor trezi si vor gasi un om potrivit la locul potrivit. Dan este , sau mai bine spus, a fost excelent prezentand emisiuni pe plaja sau pentru animalute. In 2017 numai un DAN este tolerat maltratand mai mult isteric decat rock un microfon: si Acela are un alt nume de familie.Iar epigonia se numeste Liviu Varciu, deci posturile sunt ocupate! Lucrurile s-au lamurit cand am vazut pe ecran reclama de la farmacia sponsor: cum Adrian Enache era ocupat cu un botez, Dan Helciug putea fi confundat cu respectivul daca era filmat cu drona. Din pacate unele cadre erau destul de apropiate si devenea necesara reclama cu farmacia si inima pentru cei mai slabi de inger. Cat despre intrebari si dialogurile cu finalistii din Camera Verde, parca imi aduc aminte de dialogurile exceptionale si intrebarile profunde ale lui Dan pe vremea cand prezenta emisiunea “Arca lui Noe”

5

Cu Ioana Voicu nu am prea fost amabil la editia din 2016. Dar am avut motive serioase. Anul acesta insa, si iau in calcul si prestatia de la Beraria H cu cateva saptamani in urma, Ioana a crescut foarte mult. Era de acolo, uneori, chiar daca nu foarte des, stia ce si cand sa intrebe. Parea ca stie de ce tine microfonul in mana si, spre deosebire de anul trecut era mai putin preocupata de propria prezenta si mai mult de rolul ei in programul respectiv. Si vocea parea lucrata…contrastand cu vocia care zgarie membrana difuzorului de pe scena iar prezenta ei eleganta dar cu picioarele pe pamant m-a cucerit. Stau si ma gandesc cat de greu i-a fost Ioanei sa accepte locul de vioara a doua. Cat de greu i-a fost sa se imbrace, sa se macheze si sa-si aranjeze parul potrivit potrivit cu pozitia ei de diva secunda. Stai linistita Ioana, nu a reusit. S-a vazut clar prezenta in spectacol a doua generatii diferite iar tu ai fost proaspata si, uimitor de buna.

7

Laura si mai nu stiu cum transmite live din Piata Universitatii. Evident ca centrul atentiei era in Piata Victoriei in acea seara dar TVRPSD s-a gandit ca muzical poate devia atentia de la o piata la alta…ca la piata nu? La prima interventie 6 spectatori… si unul in drum spre Piata Victoriei. La urmatoarea interventie … s-a decis sa nu mai existe o a doua legatura directa. Cine a platit pentru idee?

Filmuletele de prezentare ale concurentilor pareau facute de alta echipa. Ori poate explicatia este ca au fost facute pe reteta “budget free. Nu tu idee, nu tu imagine, nu tu concept doar concurentii adresandu-se unei categorii de telespectatori care au probleme cu intelesul mesajului melodiei respective.

Sa trecem insa la concurenti:

  1. ANA MARIA MIRICA – Spune-mi tu

A inceput seara in forta. O voce puternica, o melodie bine definita care insa e clar, ca dupa ghinionul de anul trecut, asa, din superstitie, nu va atrage prea multi votanti din partea publicului. Dar melodia este mult peste nivelul general al selectiei nationale 2017 iar Ana Maria sustine cu brio si cu ajutorul excelent al luminilor si miscarilor de camera o melodie puternica. Chiar daca imi aduce aminte de prestatia “Crno i belo” din  2012 a reprezenantei Macedoniei, Kalipoi.

ANA MARIA MIRICA

2.  ILINCA si ALEX FLOREA – Yodel it

Linia dintre original si ridicol este extrem de fina. Un amestec de hip-hop, rock, disco si … yodel,  chiar daca este greu de digerat,  poate trece ca o curiozitate, cu conditia ca vocile sa fie exceptionale. Si aici a scrantit-o melodia cu numarul 2 in concurs. Poate ca, asa ciudata si inedita cum e, ar avea o sansa sa isi gaseasca un loc in clasamentul final de la Kiev. Cu o singura conditie: eliminarea franzelelor vocale! Cred ca in seara finalei de la Bucuresti cei doi au batul recordul la falseuri si scapari de voce si sa fiu sincer nu stiu cum microfoanele ucrainiene ar rezista la asemenea zgarieturi vocale, mai ales in partitura masculina. Dar, cum ceea ce e ciudat place, nu m-ar mira sa ii vad sus si in clasamentul final

image-2017-03-5-21645725-70-ilinca-alex-florea-vor-reprezenta-romania-eurovision

3. EDUARD SANTHA – Wild child

A fost momentul in care m-a luat prima durere de cap. Melodia parea a fi o “pretiozitate sonora” compusa de irlandezi cand nu mai vroiau sa castige Eurovizionul pentru a patra oara consecutiv. Chiar daca refrenul m-a prins de cateva ori, strofa, prezenta scenic si coregrafia din background m-au facut sa intind mana dupa flaconul cu antinevralgice sau paharul cu vodca…in proportie 1:1. Mediocru spre cacofonie. Sper ca traditionalul “fish and chips” ii iese mai bine lui Eduard decat Eurovizionul.

maxresdefault

4. Xandra – Walk on by

O melodie surprinzator de buna. Nu stiu cum suna vocea Xandrei in realitate la un microfon non-TVR-ist. In seara finalei am senzatia ca mai lipseste ceva, un zvac, putina forta, asa pe masura partiturei muzicale. Rezultatul a fost o prestatie bunicica, dar,  care a sters rapid initiala speranta ca ceea ce urmeaza poate fi o varianta mioritica a maltezei Chiara. Asta nu ma opreste sa ma intreb, gandindu-ma la intrebarea lui Helciug, daca el a ascultat-o vreodata pe Adele?

5. MIHAI TRAISTARIU – I won’t surrender

Inainte de a asculta melodia mi-au dat lacrimile la bucuria Iulianei Tudor cand a descoperit  ca oamenii mai si citesc. Da, intr-adevar unii mai fac si altceva decat bluzite, buzite si codite, fata mamii!. Back to business o stim cu totii: Mihai are o vocea mare. O stim cu totii: melodiile lui sunt bune si foarte bune. Dar mai stim cu totii ca Mihai nu este o persoana cu care se lucreaza usor…dupa ce i-a calcat pe bataturi pe organizatori la Baia Mare anul trecut a avut …curaj sa se intoarca pe scena in 2017. Rezultatul: cred ca o noua pozitie 2 pentru o melodie care are stofa si voce pentru Festivalul Cantecului European.

6

6. MAXIM – Adu-ti aminte

O sansa se mergem fara emotii in finala de la Kiev din preselectie. O melodie frumos construita, voci inspirat armonizate, plus ideea de a aduce filonul folcloric in competitie mi-au placut. Chiar daca Luna lui Taxi nu a spart clasamentul in vremea ei, cei de la Maxim ar avea sanse, melodia lui Sana alunecand frumos spre modern. Si cu siguranta pana la finala ucrainiana imperfectiunile vocale se vor netezi.

maxresdefault (1)

7. Tavi Cholen & Emma – We own the night

O melodie care suna familiar…bine si familiar. Atat de familiar incat nu imi pot aduce aminte numele original. Interpretarea este un fel de “Frumoasa si Vocea”. Emma este frumoasa foc iar Tavi, nu mai era un secret pentru nimeni, aduce vocea in cuplu. O excelenta melodie pentru partea superioara a clasamentului. A, si apropos, mi-am adus aminte de unde venea infuzia de sunete din refren care imi placea: Journey-Dont Stop Believing

maxresdefault (2)

8. INSTINCT – Petale

Puteti da cu pietre, dar melodia este una dintre preferatele mele.Ba chiar asta e cantecul pe care il vad sub steagul Romaniei la Kiev si chiar in primele 5 poate. Imi place cum creste melodia si cum vocile se impletesc extrem de delicat si cu efect maxim. Daca elimini miscarea scenic ciudata, tatuajele false de prost gust…ale lui….asta poate fi o melodie care la Kiev sa ne dea batai de cap ca putem aduce finala 2018 la Bucuresti, sau Craiova daca asa vrea PSD-ul.

maxresdefault (3)

9. RAMONA NERA – Save me

O melodie destul de moderna, cantata binisor si cu o monotonie si previzibilitate tolerabila. Din pacate nici, inca o data in show-ul de duminica, luminile extraordinare si bustul impresionant al Ramonei nu au putut salva produsul final.

maxresdefault (4)

10. CRISTINA VASIU – Set the skies on fire

Ultima finalista ar fi fost cu siguranta o potentiala reprezentanta a Islandei la Kiev. Constructia melodiei seaman cu produsele venite din tara gheizerelor in ultimii ani. Evident islandezi ar renunta la rochie, la coafura de botez, la machiajul din alt film si evident si la voce. Ar pastra melodia si cred ca ar fura de la TVR decupajul si backing-ul vocal.

maxresdefault (5)

Si uite asa s-a terminat concursul. Cu o strambatura punctata de o prezentare, sau invers,  Dan Helciug a anuntat o surpriza in 2017 la Kiev: reprezentantanta Elvetiei este romanca: Timebelle – Apollo. Se vede…iar ca Elvetia ramane sa viseze la anul in care Celin Dion castiga trofeul pentru tara cantoanelor. Evident ca a urmat startul votului telefonic dupa o alta cascada de perle marca Helciug: “degete in aer”, “Romania butoneaza” si zambetul jenat/angelic al Ioanei din Camera Verde.

Iuliana Tudor face o baie de multime si prezinta invitatul special: The Arrival – un tribute ABBA.Trupa este, fara doar si poate, cel mai de success copycat al celebrilor suedezi. Cantand in toata lumea din 1995, de la sali arhipline la vase de croaziera si petreceri private au re-creat iluzia momentului asteptat de toti fanii muzicii pop: reintoarcerea pe scena a celor 4 magnifici care castigau Eurovisionul in 1974 la Brighton. Un show frumos cu costume, coregrafie,  armonii care cu siguranta i-au facut pe fanii ABBA, si nu numai, sa danseze oriunde s-ar afla. Pana si Traian Basescu s-a lasat pacalit si intr-un stil inspirat de Donald Trump s-a apucat sa bombardeze siturile de socializare cu emotiile post-Waterloo.  Poate era mai potrivita prezenta pentru o editie “O data-n viata” sau “Te cunosc de undeva” decat o finala a Selectiei Nationale Eurovision. Sau poate inca ne place sa bem Cico in loc de Fanta? Oricum cei 4 au fost cel mai aproape de performanta Eurovision-ul dintre toti cei care au urcat duminica pe scena. Pacat ca nu participa pentru Romania!

Au urmat in scena reprezentantii Moldovei la Kiev 2017. Poate, daca nu sunt foarte ocupati la anul, ii rugam sa vina prin lumea muzicala mioritica sa dea ceva lectii. Excelenta piesa si punere in scena. Spaniolul venit la Bucuresti reia linia curata cu baieti dulcici descoperiti de o strabunica a celebrului “X Factor” – “Operacion Triunfo”. Ascultand piesa fara sa ma uit la Manuel, am senzatia ca nici macar Romania nu va vota pentru Espana anul acesta.

Ultimele “2 minute de metri” (vorba lui Helciug) aduc isteria maxima a prezentatorului! Greu de suportat, nu din cauza emotiilor ci datorita incoerentei si decibelilor mai potriviti la Spitalul de Urgenta….”atmosfera ca de revelion” cum spune Helciug!

Excelenta ideea cu cresterea emotiilor si dezvaluirea primilor trei clasati. Pacat ca Iuliana nu a inteles ca nu era momentul ei de glorie ci al primilor 3 clasati.

Iar distrugerea sistematica a momentului culminant continua cu anuntarea marelui castigator. Oare nu s-a facut o sedinta de redactie inainte de emisiune sa i se explice Iulianei ca nu a castiga ea Miss Univers 1985, ci ca era doar un voice-over pentru un castigator al unei selectii nationale.

download

Din spatele divei fata lui Helciug spune totul. Daca mai gasiti inregistrarea de duminica uitati-va la schimbul de priviri dintre Ioana si Dan cand Anca-Iuliana-Ramona Tudor mentioneaza pentru a 100 oara titlul emisiunii din dotare “O data-n viata” (de parca am putea uita cum se numeste!). Merita sa faceti un GIF cu fetele celor doi.

Inainte de anuntul final inca o gluma proasta a lui Dan si o reactive pe masura a Iulianei. Noroc cu picioarele Ioanei care erau colosale!

Restul show-ului nu a mai contat. A fost un fel de “O data-n viata” (oops am luat si eu ticul verbal) masacrat de Iuliana care nici moarta sau transpirata nu lasa microfomul partenerilor de prezentare.

Noroc ca Ioana avea picoare COLOSALE!

Genericele au curs si uite asa am scapat de Eurovision obsesie nationala pentru inca un an!

Tragem linie si adunam:

  • Ca show de televiziune productia TVR de duminica a demonstrate inca o data, desi nu cred ca mai era nevoie, ca are cu ce si are si cu cine. Important este sa le dai oamenilor ADEVARATI de televiziune incredere si mana libera. Excelent show! Bravo fostilor colegi din Dorobantilor 191.
  • La capitolul prezentatori au trecut clasa Ioana (proaspata, fireasca si uneori cu o stangacie eleganta si fermecatoare) si Anca-Ramona-Andreea-Iuliana Tudor (care a fost omul potrivit, la locul potrivit, daca locul avea eticheta de “O data-n viata”). Dan, cu toata admiratia pe care o am pentru el ca om si artist, la capitolul prezentare de eveniment (de calibrul Eurovision, nu o petrecere pe plaja organizata de berea nu stiu care) mai are nevoie de ceva meditatii gen “la microfon se vorbeste nu se tipa”, “nu mai da din mana”, “ai slit frumos dar nu e nevoie sa-l faci public” si asa mai departe. Dar astea sunt rautati de “dinozaur”
  • Ma gandesc la suferintele juriului care a trebuit sa asculte piese mult mai proaste (se poate asa ceva?) decat cele din finala. Nu stiu altii, dar eu dupa terminarea finalei am simtit nevoia se umplu casa cu vocea Paulei si Luminitei…asa ca spalare a pacatelor de telespectator.
  • “Heidi & Peter” de Romania se vor plasa confortabil printe cantecele despre care se va VORBI la Kiev. Nu neaparat se va vota! Poate doar in conditiile in care echipa din spatele participarii noastre la Eurovision 2017 va aborda melodia exact asa cum este: ca pe o gluma. Poate doar asa sa ne auzim de doua ori pe scena din Ukraina.

Un amic strengar de pe Facebook spunea ca aici a fost mana lui Johannis, si de accea s-a votat pentru influente germanice din zona luetei. Sa fiu sincer musical, si nu numai prefer, sa ascult un yodler decat un braulet de Teleorman.

Mult success Ilinca si Alex la Kiev!

MSC SEAVIEW – A HANDFUL OF COINS FOR A €9bn INVESTMENT

•February 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Seaview will be the highlight of next year for MSC Cruises, as she will begin sailing in June 2018 in the western Mediterranean for her first summer season.  Then, the 5,179-guest capacity ship will continue to Brazil in November.  She will be the second of two sister ships in the Seaside generation to be built by Fincantieri.  Sister ship MSC Seaside is set to enter service later this year, and will be christened in her homeport of Miami.

The “Coin Ceremony” held on February 2nd marked a milestone in the construction of MSC SEAVIEW giving a clear sign of MSC Cruises’ serious intention to triple its fleet by 2023. The “coin ceremony”, at the FINCANTIERI shipyards in Monfalcone, is an age-old tradition carried out in the early stages of the building of a ship to bring luck to the vessel during its future voyages.

The coin ceremony for a vessel takes place when its keel is laid, in the early stages of the construction process.  Tradition says that two long-standing employees representing the shipyard and the shipowner act as godmothers for the ceremony, placing two coins under the new ship’s keel block as a sign of good fortune and blessing.  Michela Bullo from Fincantieri and Loredana Giammusso from MSC had the honour of performing the task at the beginning of February.

coin5

MSC Seaview will come into service in June 2018, sailing the Western Mediterranean in her inaugural summer season visiting the ports of Genoa, Naples, Messina, Valletta, Barcelona and Marseille. In November the ship will then sail on to Brazil with as transatlantic cruise that will give some lucky voyagers the chance to have a two week cruise across the ocean. Like its sister ship MSC Seaside, this vessel has taken ship design to a whole new level. With its 323 metre length and impressive 160,000 tonnes, MSC Seaview will accommodate over 5,000 guests.

Such a massive undertaking will ensure MSC Cruises will continue to be the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line as well as market leader in Europe, South America and South Africa. But one cannot count exclusively on heavy investments, long term marketing plans, technological advancements and ever more modern and safer ship designs to get by, we also need a little luck!

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ executive chairman commented: ‘MSC Seaview is a reflection of our unique and ongoing commitment to each time bring to market the most innovatively conceived cruise ships, as the Seaside generation of MSC Cruises ships introduces yet another game-changing prototype.’

Giuseppe Bono, CEO of Fincantieri, said: ‘We always celebrate every stage of progress of this project with satisfaction. The MSC Seaview order, as a sister ship to MSC Seaside, which was floated out in November 2016, is one of those which has allowed the crucial relaunch of the cruise market. Our group has shown to fully match this important opportunity, which has helped to make Fincantieri the acknowledged leader in this industry, both in terms of volume and product diversification.’

Gianni Onorato, MSC Cruises CEO added: ‘MSC Seaview will bring guests and the sea closer to each other, with a pioneering beach condo concept and other unique design and product elements that allow to make the most of the warmer weather. With one of the highest ratios of outdoor spaces at sea, guests will also enjoy an increased number of balcony cabins, sea views and outdoor public areas, with every element carefully planned to allow to make the most of the sea and the sunshine.’

Antonio Paradiso, country manager of MSC Cruises UK & Ireland commented: ‘MSC Seaside has seen a 46% increase in UK sales for the same itinerary compared to last year, with an overall increase of 69% year-on-year increase in the Caribbean – helped by our Fly&Cruise package to the region, with charter flights with Virgin Atlantic.’ In the Mediterranean, Paradiso said, ‘MSC Meraviglia (debuting thsi summer) is currently our most booked ship in this region and represents 20% of our volumes for 2017, with the Med seeing a 30% YoY increase in guests. We expect to see this trend continue with MSC Seaview (in 2018) and MSC Bellissima (arriving in 2019).’

With a breathtaking 360° ocean level promenade it will allow guests to experience the sea and not just float above it, while enjoying mesmerising views even while dining, shopping or just walking around. Technology-wise, MSC Cruises is creating the Seaside class of ships as “next-generation smart ships” and they will employ the latest and snazziest technology afloat. The line has formed a partnership with Samsung, and the tech will include everything from the latest displays and mobile solutions, to virtual reality. Specifically, this will include:

  • Near Field Communication (NFC), using a cruise card, bracelet or smartphone for a range of different options including geo-location of children, cabin access and onboard payment.
  • Interactive screens to make it simple to select excursions as well as booking shows and restaurants.
  • iBeacon technology that is customized to each passengers’ specific preferences so that they will never miss their favourite experiences, can communicate with mobile devices and send push notifications about relevant information and offers

For those who can’t wait to experience the best in cruising or who wish to be among the first to sail on such a marvel, these ships have been bookable since 4th July 2016!

VOYAGE JULES VERNE – THE BITTER TASTE OF TRUST

•February 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A review of a Voyage Jules Verne trip to Cuba

 

The first time when the Worldwide Journeys brochure arrived at my doorstep I was extremely excited. I read every page, looking at the photos and itineraries and, closing my eyes, I could imagine myself travelling in incredible places under the prestigious label of “Voyage Jules Verne” – named in 2016 the Best Specialist Tour Operator at “The Travel Awards”.worldwide-journeys-banner

The prices were a little bit over the average price of the market for my favourite destinations but the promises in their brochure of “inspiring tours”, “packed with special touches and little extras” and “expert guides to show you the true character of each destination and take you beyond the norm” won over all my worries created by the less-than-positive reviews on tripadvisor.co.uk, dooyoo.co.uk and beyond. It was then I started to plan a VJV journey. Choosing between a Nile Cruise, a trip to Peru or Cuba, the idea of Fidel and Che’s island was my ultimate choice: “Cuba 5-Star”. The “5 Star” associated with the name of the tour was an important element in my decision.

So here I was, middle of October, with the phone in my hand, ready to book a nice Christmas present for my partner. From that point, Voyage Jules Verne failed in all and every aspects possible. So, make yourself a coffee, sit down and get ready to read the story of a “glossy brochure” travel agent ruining 7 days spent in one of the most beautiful and interesting destinations in the Caribbean.

vj2

PRE-TOUR

VJV mention in their brochure and website that their, “expert staff organise every detail so you can book in complete confidence”. Sounds great but it is far from reality.  The gentleman that I spoke with was more interested in reading a long script explaining that VJV doesn’t have any responsibility if Cuba will disappoint me as a destination, than in answering my questions. When I enquired regarding an upgrade to Business Class flights he tried hard to convince me that Premium Economy was better…really?!  I tried to book a post-tour extension in Varadero, but the same gentleman informed me that extensions were not offered for the dates that I wanted to book. Disappointed initially, I was later frustrated when, during the tour, when I discover that 2 other couples booked with VJV a 4 day extension in the beach resort. I can’t stop wondering: is the agent working on commission and employed to bring revenues to the company or was there just to cover for a maternity leave?

The moment the money disappeared from my bank account was the last moment I heard anything about or from Voyage Jules Verne. An email with the confirmation of the booking was sent and after that total silence.  No, I am lying: 2 weeks before the tour I received a second email copy-and-pasted from the first one, with the addition of the date when the tour supposed to start and some vague instructions related to our arrival. He was trying to be “transparent” and advise me to pay only the deposit and after the completion of the transaction he added that “maybe the tour will be cancelled if the minimum number of customers is not reached” but they will let me know. Is just me or was a little bit too late?

While other travel agencies (such as Gate1, Viking, Destinology, ITC) send you a wide range of useful information, timings and details of every day of the tour, VJV was as silent as the remote beaches of Cuba. I contacted them trying to get some information related the daily schedule as I was interested to book and organise some extra tours and evenings in our free time. The agent, a lovely female voice this time, assured me that I didn’t need anything, as I “will be too busy” and “the tour manager” will give me anything I wanted in Havana. Reassuringly, she ended with “no worries, the tour is very good”.

VJV fooled me again. On the positive side, they sent me home a new brochure for 2017 and 2 imitation leather luggage tags. Great deal!

vj5

TRANSFER OUTBOUND

As I decided to book my own flights (by the way Air France/KLM have an excellent hard and soft product for both short and long haul), VJV discount £700 from the price of the holiday per guest for the cost of the economy Virgin Atlantic flight and transfers to/from José Martí airport in Havana.  I therefore paid VJV for outbound and inbound private transfers in Havana for £30 return. I knew from my previous trips to Havana that a taxi will be cheaper (around £20 return) but I wanted to save the hassle of running with my luggage in the terminal to find a driver. It’s common to hear about the long waiting time at the luggage carousel at the airport, and even Air France crew mention that in the landing PA. However, we were lucky and the luggage arrived in 20 minutes and all the formalities were smooth and quick. 50 minutes after landing we were landside, in the arrivals area looking for our transfer, as instructed by VJV: “you will be met by our representative (…) holding a Jules Verne sign”. Surprise, Surprise: nobody was waiting for us and I spent 15 minutes reading all funny names from all 5 continents on all boards waved in arrivals. On a positive note, I had 30 minutes’ time for a quick-ish smoke outside while my partner was chasing an agent inside the terminal. Finally, the local representative arrived and with a charming smile informed us that “we arrived earlier and the driver is not here”. After another 15 minutes, a taxi driver appeared we were told that the transfer was ready.  From my experience when other companies offer a paid private transfer the driver assists you with the luggage; being just a taxi driver, ours was having a smoke when we were trying to fit the luggage in the car and ended with one suitcase placed in the front seat.

Before leaving us with the driver, the airport rep gave us the “welcome pack”: an envelope, with some hand-written information about the first meeting containing a welcome letter from Kuoni; a booking form for optional tours with very interesting options but not applicable to our tour; and extensive explanations about how we must score the tour with 9 and 10 which “means we have achieved our goal in making your holiday unique”.

20170124_171458_hdr

 

Interesting, I thought, and I blamed the long flight for having some reserves related to the holiday that was about to start. The next day in the morning we and our fellow travellers spent some time trying to locate the meeting point for the Welcome briefing as the handwritten envelope mentioned “main lobby” and guess what? The hotel we had been booked into for the first three nights, Parque Central, has 2 main lobbies in two different buildings. Walking around the hotel I was wondering if Voyage Jules Verne went bust during our 10 hour flight between Paris and Havana and that was the explanation of the total lack of company presence in Havana. Later I understood that in fact Voyage Jules Verne had sold us a Kuoni tour, operated by the national tour operator Cubanacan. So, the motto of the trip according the advice of the Kuoni representative was: “Don’t blame VJV, blame Cuba!”.

THE TOUR

Voyage Jules Verne promises, both in the brochure and website, an “authentic travel with a twist for people who love to see the world” in an “expertly planned and organised” way (https://www.vjv.com/about-us/#difference).  Really? So, how do they explain the glaring differences between the glossy brochure promises and the reality in the field during our “Cuba 5-Star”?  Do we need to “blame Cuba” again?

First of all, nothing was “expertly planned and organised” and the entire tour took place under a cloak secrecy, with our guide revealing the stops, sights, meal times etc., as we were travelling across the country.  This gave me the feeling that the poor driver and guide were creating a tour for VJV on the go, who had forgotten what we paid for.  Although the main points of day by day schedule were respected, there were too many things were missing:

In Havana, after the city tour, nobody remembered that visit to a rum factory and a “Special Event” to sample a cocktail at ‘Hemingway’s Haunt’ had been promised by VJV (https://www.vjv.com/the-americas-tours/cuba/cuba-5star-1/#itinerary). Despite the fact that the company prides itself with VJV Special Events which “enhance the experience of Jules Verne travellers”, arranging “exclusive and memorable special events, illuminating the country and peoples you are visiting”, the scheduled stop to the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway, “El Floridita”, was replaced with an explanation where to find the place on the map.   Later on in the tour,  in Cienfuegos, the highlighted visit to a cigar factory was also cut without explanations.  Their website does indicate that the visits to both the rum and cigar factories “may be replaced with an alternative visit” but none were offered.

VJV prides itself with a product which “encompasses (…) the conventional and the unexpected, a variety of themes and special interests – all underpinned by quality and value for money” (https://www.vjv.com/about-us/#history) using “knowledgeable local guides”. Let’s put the things straight: our “Cuba 5-Star” didn’t have a tour manager or local guides. For 7 days, a charming young lady tried skilfully to mix up a cocktail of tour manager, escort and guide.  However, although she was local and knowledgeable, her expertise was limited to covering the driving time between A and B with interesting stories, local history and general information about the country. The long list of museums listed by VJV for this tour got just a very quick presentation at the entrance followed by free time.  For instance it was quite frustrating in the Cuban Art Museum in Havana or Trinidad’s City Museum to see how other groups benefitted from a guide’s explanation while we were walking around trying to ready the bilingual inscriptions. If I wanted to do a “guided tour” with a guide book in my hand I would not need Voyage Jules Verne for this A good guide book is infinitely less expensive.

VJV describes itself as a creator of tours which “offer authentic travel with a twist for people who love to see the world”. To be honest in 8 days we spent more time in shops or meal provider’s places (I will not call them restaurants and you will see later why) than in cities we visited: one afternoon free in Havana, 50 minutes in Santa Clara, 10 minutes in Remedios, 30 minutes in Cienfuegos, and a late afternoon in Trinidad. You must be Speedy Gonzalez to have time for a single museum visit in these conditions. On the positive side after this tour – which was more a teaser than a real tour – I decided to go back…this time without Voyage Jules Verne.

Of course, the company will put the blame on the guide. But that charming girl was doing the  job she is paid to do, a classic tour oversold by VJV; even the KUONI rep didn’t know the name of the tour we were in.

ACCOMMODATION

VJV mentions the struggle to organise a trip “allowing for a tour of the island whilst staying in some of Cuba’s best accommodation”. When I enquired, I was told by one of the agents that the “5-star” element of “Cuba 5-star” refers mainly to the accommodation.  This was something I was happy to pay premium price for.

The reality was a little bit different. Imagine that somebody invites you for a ride in a Rolls Royce. Very exciting! But all dreams are brought down to Earth when you realise that for the promised Rolls ride, your reserved seat is in the car boot. That was exactly the situation with our “Cuba 5-Star”

All the hotels during our tour were categorised as five star. But, as you know, each 5 star hotel has its own cheap rooms, borderline 4/5 stars, at reduced prices.  This is exactly where VJV booked us:

  • Iberostar Parque Central Havana has two buildings: the 5 star one (with better rooms, more luxurious facilities, free WIFI, better trained staff) called the Colonial wing, and is the place where all the respectable agencies operating 5 star tours accommodate their clients. Even Kuoni have groups there. The other building “Moderno” is more modest in all aspects, a 4 star hotel used by many airlines for their night stops (Virgin Atlantic, Air France, etc.). Speaking Spanish, was easy to communicate with the staff and realise that the two wings are part of two different worlds. Accordingly, the prices are different too. So not a really five star in Havana, VJV.
  • Iberostar Ensenachos in Cayo Santa Maria has 5 stars at the entrance, too. But here the differences were more visible. The 5 star part (The Grand Village) is quite far away from the central part and has its own restaurants, beach and facilities. The place where we spent 2 nights was more an all-inclusive trashy, cheap resort like the ones which can be found in the cheaper Spanish costas. It offered a continuous fight for food in the huge, canteen-like buffet area, towels left on sunbeds to reserve the places for families, cheap drinks imitating real cocktails and lame entertainment. On top of that, the rooms for our group were placed in an area used only when the hotel is overbooked and was still under renovation. As we arrived quite late, the room were only partial ready and some facilities associated with a 5 star hotels arrived the following day. The description of the hotel in VJV brochure and website with “a wide choice of restaurants” (https://www.vjv.com/the-americas-tours/cuba/cuba-5star-1/#accommodation) was not at all accurate due to the fact that only the buffet was included. If you wanted to book an “a la carte” restaurant they were not available for a 2-night stay and “The Colonial” restaurant, which was close to the idea of a 5 star, was available for a 25CUC fee.  Having being made to eat the buffet in our first night, we paid for eat there for the second and it was worth it for decent food and service.
  • Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad was the only hotel in this trip close to the idea of a 5 star. Friendly and efficient service, high standard facilities and a perfect location. Of course, that’s my opinion, but some of my fellow traveller weren’t so happy with the hotel. We were lucky enough to get a room with a beautiful terrace looking over the square and beautiful views of a magnificent sunset and sunrise. Others got a room just with a window and some of the rooms were looking over the street behind the hotel. I don’t think that is fair to pay the same amount of money and get different rooms, especially when at the reception the displayed price indicated the different grades – and prices – of the accommodations available.

FOOD

If you are not adventurous enough to find your own alternatives, VJV’s “Cuba 5-Star” will leave you with the feeling that Cuban’s cuisine is a total disaster with poor quality ingredients and boring recipes. This is not at all the truth. Cuban’s cuisine is based on fresh ingredients, following the main trend of the Caribbean cooking style but with a very interesting infusion of Spanish, African and Continental touches. However, to discover the real Cuban cooking you need to walk away from the included lunches and dinner that VJV offers in the tour.

According to the VJV website, the tour has all breakfast included, 3 lunches and 3 dinners. If I ignore the morning in Cayo Santa Maria where the breakfast reminds me of a buffet in a cheap Spanish summer resort, in Havana and Trinidad the hotels provided an excellent breakfast with the expected fusion between a traditional breakfast (omelettes, sausages, cheese, cereals) and local cuisine (churros, friend bananas and amazing fresh tropical fruits.

Why do you need to include poor quality and cheap meals when is better to stay safe and just recommend a range of available restaurants? Thankfully we had internet access and we found via TripAdvisor excellent restaurants which provided a very different image of Cuban cuisine.: Habana 61 and Al Carbon in Havana , Santa Clara Libre in Santa Clara, La Redaccion in Trinidad.

SAFETY & COMFORT

This are two capital components of the “duty of care” regardless if you travel by air, on water or on land. In my more than 25 years’ experience travelling around the world, I realised that every company, no matter how strong or weak is their product, places the safety and comfort of their guests on a priority list.  However, on my “Cuba 5-Star” trip, Voyage Jules Verne, being so divorced from the end product, lost somehow the control of these two elements.

When you target a market of 50+ customers and you design a tour with long drives across Cuba (4-5 hours) maybe will be a good idea to provide a coach with facilities which will cover the need for “technical stops”. This is especially important in a country where the toilet breaks are made only in places approved by the tour operator. During our trips in Cuba, some of them with 4-5 hours’ drive, we had only one stop/sector in places owned by Cubanacan. These were absolutely fine places, efficient service and adequate facilities but sometimes your bladder doesn’t agree with the beauty of landscape or the rules of the contract.  Since our minibus, despite being very comfortable, didn’t have a toilet, you can imagine the rush and the queue on every stop every day. We saw on our travels smaller groups in bigger coaches with the mentioned facilities. I can understand the idea of cutting costs but when the comfort and the idea of duty of care are ignored I can’t associate this with a 5-star tour.

img_6660

The scariest experience was for far in Cayo Santa Maria. To cut the story short I was verbally abused by a “merry guest”, a habitué of the establishment for an entire evening.  Despite the front desk, the night shift manager and security guards being informed and observing this happening, they did very little to assist.  . The next morning, the verbal and physical assault continued, again in front of the staff who found the situation “funny” making comments in Spanish without knowing that, unfortunately, I also speak the language.  More frightening was finding out that the “gentleman” knew exactly the time when we supposed to be leaving the hotel and he “woke up so early” to meet us again as “planned”. The verbal and physical abuse continued on the same racist and homophobic lines, under the amused faces of the front desk and security personnel. I am a big adult and I can cope with any type of behaviour but, what really worried me was how a sensitive information, like our departure time, leaked from the Front Desk to a private guest,  in particular given his violent behaviour the night before. Has anybody heard about data protection in that hotel? What else did the kind receptionists say about us? I cannot blame the aggressive guest – it was probably the poor-quality free drinks or the low standards of this “5 star all-inclusive resort”. I cannot blame the reception or security for not doing their jobs  -that’s a management issue. But I cannot stop asking myself where was the “duty of care” of VJV when they decided to place guests in that hotel.  Is again “cost efficiency” against “quality customer service”?

POST-TOUR

On our arrival, I received a quaint quality questionnaire from Voyage Jules Verne. Very basic questions proving again that is no interest in finding what guests find the company excels and what is clearly not working with their products.  I have filled in so many questionnaires in my lifetime for airlines, hotels, cruise ships, tour operators, yet never have I seen something so basic until now.  More than a genuine interest in guests’ experiences, it’s more a box-ticking exercise and pretending that they have some “post-tour” contact with their guests.  Nevertheless, after my messages on social media I got a phone call from the VJV office to learn more about what had gone wrong on my holiday.  The official answer from the office was the ultimate sock. To my attempts of offering a constructive feedback related to the tour, the answer was blunt if not quite rude: “…there are a number of aspects on which I feel I could challenge you…”

jv1

BOTTOM LINE

Voyage Jules Verne is so divorced from the end product that is very difficult for me to match the online/printed promises with the reality of my “Cuba 5-Star”.  It was incredibly frustrating to realise after 8 days and more than a few thousand pounds later,  that one of the reviews on VJV services was right: “just another brochure tour operator”.

One of the main rules of any hotelier, which can be applied here, is that  it is more expensive and far more difficult to get new customer through your door than keeping the existing ones in.  In our group, from 16 travellers, one was a repeater with 15 first timers. It’s hardly surprising that more than 80% of the first timers will not come back to VJV. It sounds to me like a dreadful waste of money and energy in putting together, printing and sending an excellent brochure and after that losing almost everything due to the poor service quality and disjunction between promises and reality.

I know that is nobody to blame but me. I was the one excited about the trip, I was the one booking and spending the money. But maybe somebody in the VJV office will realise how much you can lose if you overpromise and underdeliver. Maybe I am not their target market but before the trip to Cuba I was lining up another 3 trips with them, first one in May on the Nile, one in South America and the “palace on wheels” in India. That’s a lot of future bookings for any travel agent, coming from a market sector who invest more in holiday than the rest.

Going back to the VJV questionnaire when I was asked if I would recommend them the answer was clearly no. I don’t want anybody to experience the frustration of realising the difference between the printed/online materials and the real tour. It’s sad that after a week, in an amazing country like Cuba, the only memories that deserved to be shared with friends and family are the excellent flights both ways and the meals, drinks and excursions that we planned and did independently.  In the official answer VJV replayed to my comments with an incredible sentence: “As I said, I do not agree with some of your sentiments…” Really? A serious customer service provider knows that the feed-back is a gift and you always say “thank you”.

When I was asked if I would book with VJV in the future, the answer was easy: NO. The resolution of VJV was the perfect reason to don’t book again: we would like to offer you a 5% discount from any of our tours and this offer would have a two-year validity”. Really? Did VJV ever heard about the fact that in customer recovery never ever assume customer needs. That’s a very poor customer retention strategy. Was easier and cheaper if they were ready to accept the feedback, stop blaming the locals and change something in the future to make the trip a real 5-Star Cuba.

I still keep the brochure on my desk which is a bad sign. However, on a positive side, other offers, magazines and brochures arrive daily at home and Voyage Jules Verne is going lower and lower in my “to do in 2017” pile.

IBEROSTAR CUBA – 3 HOTELS, 3 STORIES

•January 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This year in January I spent one week in Cuba travelling across the island and discovering again a beautiful destination where I always love to go back. The tour organised by Voyage Jules Verne used for all our stays hotels from the Spanish chain IBEROSTAR, all rated 5 star. To be clear from the beginning: if I will take care of my own bookings I would never chose Iberostar for my accommodation,  in Cuba nor anywhere in Europe. Just because “budget hotels”, even the high end ones are not my cup of tea.  The chain has the reputation of mass produced tourism style services and my previous experience in hotels and resorts proved the point the most of the time the stars associated with different establishments were given after a very “generous” assessment. And in Cuba the story was not very different than in Europe.

download

HAVANA – Iberostar Parque Central

On my previous trips to Havana I used Parque Central because it’s excellent location. You are minutes from the vibrant Havana Vieja and in no time, you discover yourself absorbed by the vibes of Obispo street. The hotel is still no. 1 according to the ratings and the service style didn’t change to much in the last 5 years.

 

Before I used the colonial part of the hotel, facing the Central Park, but, this time I had my accommodation in the new wing The Tower (El Torre). Is linked to the old building with an interesting underground passage reminding you with photos and artefacts about the history of Cuba.

Even if the entire complex is rated 5 star be aware that between the colonial part and the tower are couple of differences which made the new building more a 4 star hotel. At the end of the day airline crew stay there and, taking in the account the cost awareness in airline industry I don’t know any airline placing their staff in a 5 star hotel.

The tower has its own reception and concierge so, if you are staying here don’t attempt to use the colonial services…you will be send back to your 4-star world. But in the tower, both the Reception and Concierge are very polite and helpful. And if you add a tip in your first day you can assure for yourself a nice smooth stay with guaranteed taxi and restaurant bookings.

During my stay, I have a room at the 8th floor which had a little inconvenience. The hotel has 3 elevators and most all the time only one was working so be aware of waiting time and be open to start friendly conversation with others using the one and only elevator in the building. Can be quite useful for tips about the city.

The room and the bathroom are quite big with generous space but again the size, the amenities and the furniture are more 4 stars than 5. Maybe the only 5-star touch was the spot-on cleanness of the room.

hotel-parque-central-torre-room_1

On top of the Tower I found a nice, decent size pool with a bar and a restaurant, not so glam like in the colonial part but still a pleasant place for a Mojito in the afternoon. Time to time the restaurant was offering dinner and special events and one night I enjoyed the Cuban National Cameral Orchestra during a special dinner.

Of course, you can spend a lot of time in the colonial part of Parque Central where the lobby is buzzing with action and live music, the food and the cocktails are pretty good, the service is great and the prices reasonable. Such a pity that The Tower didn’t offer the same atmosphere; the only thing that you could do in the lobby was people watching: tourist waiting on top of their suitcase for the transfer or flight attendants checking in or out.

The breakfast was outstanding with great choice (a mixture between European, English and local dishes), lots of fresh fruits and juices (the Cucumber juice was amazing) and a service in line with any high-class traveller. Of course, you can chose to have breakfast in the colonial building, but here in the tower was a little bit more cosy and intimate with quicker and better service. Perfect experience to start your day.

Both Front Desk and Concierge were very helpful and well trained. You can exchange money at the reception if you need more CUC any time of the day (the office located in the colonial part of the hotel have opening times not very accommodating for the tourists) and the Concierge can book for you any tours taxis or restaurant. One evening trying to find a last-minute table in a restaurant, Eddy the Concierge, recommended us an excellent place. Was very honest both about the prices and menu and actually he advises us to walk instead of taking a taxi as the restaurant was very close. That’s what I call an excellent Concierge.

Bottom line the Torre Parque Central is in reality a 4 star hotel but with good accommodation and services. Of course if they will try to bring some live in the premises for sure will be as popular as the Main Lobby in the colonial wing of the hotel.

TRINIDAD -Iberostar Grand Hotel

IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel Trinidad is indeed the door to a world of maximum comfort in the centre of Trinidad. Is actually an adults-only hotel (guests cannot be under 15 years old), hosted in one of the most impressive properties on the island.

Located in Plaza Carillo the hotel is just a walking distance from extraordinary restaurants, vibrant places full of live music and famous Plaza Major with its impressive cathedral and an open-air Casa de la Musica.

The IBEROSTAR Grand Hotel Trinidad include 4 junior suites, 18 double rooms and 18 doubles with a balcony being closer to a boutique hotel them the mass-produced tourism promoted in Cuba by the Iberostar chain. The perfect choice for a fantastic, relaxing stay.

I had a double room with balcony on the first floor and I regretted that I spent only one night here. Drawing inspiration from traditional colonial architecture, the entire hotel brings guests back to sixteenth-century Cuba. The room (#108) was divided into four distinct areas: hall and walk-in closet, private bathroom, large bedroom, and terrace. Add to this an iPod dock and radio alarm clock, pillows à-la-carte, free Wi-Fi (30 minutes) to get the image of the perfect stay.

The terrace was quite large offering lovely views of Parque Céspedes a place always buzzing with music and Cuban spirit. Despite of the fact that the square and the park were always busy the isolation of the room give you the chance of a perfect sleep.

The breakfast served in a very elegant and understated restaurant was a real gastronomic celebration mixing in a smooth way Continental, Spanish, English, American dishes with a twist of Cuban cuisine. Impeccable service and you risk to spend more than accepted time here…it was amazing.

The best asset of the hotel is without doubt the staff. The reception was very efficient and very polite at check in, being helpful and friendly for our entire stay. When we asked the reception about a restaurant where we wanted to have dinner the lovely lady on duty provide us with a map, marking the shortest way and even she offered to call the restaurant to check availability. When we left the hotel for dinner the doorman offered to come with us to be sure that we will take the right turn behind the hotel and we will not get lost.

One little warning: when at the bar or in the lobby watch out for the magician – he is very good but knows new guests and targets them to buy his special box or send you to a not very good restaurant where he will get something in exchange.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this hotel-it is one of the best in Cuba and the staff couldn’t be friendlier and nothing was too much trouble.

CAYO SANTA MARIA – Iberostar Ensenachos

The hotel has, indeed, a 5 stars’ plaque at the entrance but the reality is a little bit different. The resort is divided in 3 different sections and only The Village can be clearly associated with a 5 star hotel.

The frustrating thing about our stay there is the huge difference between the hard and the soft product of Iberostar Ensenachos.

images-1

The original building was planned to be a real 5-star resort. The gardens are amazing, the access to the beach is spectacular and the beach itself is what you expect from an idyllic Caribbean white sand beach. The room are big, with a lot of space and a nice terrace. Even the public areas rich a kind of opulence and luxury expected for a high-class hotel. But the similarities with other 5 star hotels stop here.

My accommodation was in the Spa section in a building still under renovation so from the big terrace I have lovely view of scaffolds and construction sites. The room amenities associated with 5 stars were missing in the first night and the next they when you got your slippers and bathrobes you realised how many groups of “all-inclusive fans” used them.

The room was clean at a superficial level with a lot of dirt in the corners, under the beds. In the second day, we realised how the cleaning was going on: buckets of water on the floor and after that the door was left wide open, with nobody around, to dry. Safety and security rules, no way! Anybody can enter the room and pick up whatever they fancy because was nobody around!

download

The food was typical for a 3-star all-inclusive resort anywhere in Spain, Turkey or Greece. Mass produced, with meals looking more like a bunfight in a cheap summer camp than an enjoyable moment. Even the cocktails were the victims of “all-inclusive” cocktails: powder from a can, something coloured made in a plastic bucket and a lot of cheap white rum.

Another “included” surprise: HOUSEFLIES! There were everywhere there was food, in the buffets, at the beach, any food places. They were also in the lobby anywhere sweet drinks were served! Dead flies in food so as the week went on my appetite got less and less. Flies come from maggots which comes from garbage! It is a major health issue to have flies walking all over the food.

Striking was the level of customer service. At Iberostar Ensenachos as higher you are in the hotel’s hierarchy as rude you must be. The lower grade staff in bars and restaurant smile all the time, work hard offering a decent service. The reception and the management is appalling with no customer skills and no wish to do something in line with a 5 start hotel requirements.

img_7030

The most concerning aspect of this hotel is safety and security. We witnessed in two different days quite violent conflicts between guests and both the reception staff and the security guards were watching the scenes having a lot of fun and without interfering. Quite terrifying!

The general excuse “what you expect, is Cuba!” doesn’t work here. We meet a couple staying in the posh part “The Village” and cleaning and service was completely different. Something like borderline 4/5 star. Another night we paid and book a table in The Colonial restaurant and the quality of the meal and the service was very good. So, it is possible!

Iberostar Ensenachos is far from a 5 star resort. Cuba have 5 star establishments, both hotels and resorts, but Iberostar Ensenachos is nothing more than a cheap all-inclusive holiday resort over-marketed as an exclusive place to be. If you like a resort in Benidorm, Bodrum or Paphos  Iberostar Ensenachos is your place. At the end of the day nothing is exotic apart of the location and don’t forget that for budget holidaymakers from Canada, Cuba is the same like Cyprus for British or Bali for Australians.

Iberostar Ensenachos is not at all an exclusive 5 star holiday is an all-inclusive mediocre resort tailored for budget holiday maker.

I will not recommend it to those who look for a real 5 star experience in Cuba. And for sure I will not come back…at the end of the day everybody has his/her own standards and expectations.

DISCOVERING CUBA – TROPICANA

•January 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

 A NIGHT AT TROPICANA

The beautiful Cuban capital is finally coming in from the cold isolation, state controls loosen and a wave of optimism and creativity is unleashed. And you can catch this vibe day and night in Havana…especially night time. The Revolution may have curbed the debauched excesses of the Fabulous Fifties, but Havana’s brand of rum-fuelled hedonism still lures mega stars and tourists to its vibrant clubs and bars. La Habana Vieja is brimming with bars, tango houses and cultural centres. The main strip of Calle Obispo is the place to begin an old town bar hop, where a seductive musical soundtrack and spontaneous street side grooving provides some of the city’s best free entertainment. As the bars, close at midnight, the clubs get into full swing, continuing until the early hours. Havana moves to the sound of a musical score. She sways, flirts, ruffles and twirls to notes that have been cooked with Bantu beats, Spanish strings, reggae thumps and melancholic love songs. It’s all about the music – and the rum. The minty mojito and the chilled daiquiri were created in Cuba and sparkling cocktails or light Cristal and dark Bucanero beer can be found in her drinking dens, speakeasy-style bars, salsa venues, hip haunts and open-air patios.

Only one spot in the town manage, since 1939 to keep the same aura of glamour and decadence, ignoring completely the political or social tornadoes shaking the country and its capital. Its marketing slogan as a ‘paradise under the stars’ is no hyperbole: the outdoor, tropical setting of the world-famous cabaret is the perfect stage for an art extravaganza to multiply the Cuban happiness of a true tropical night.

WELCOME TO TROPICANA! IT’S SHOW TIME!

Tropicana’s history is as fascinating as its own show.

Once the lush gardens were the property of Guillermina Pérez Chaumont, known as Mina, a Havana socialite. She decided to sell it to an entrepreneur in 1939 who dreamed of opening a 300-person capacity night club. The socialite put one condition on the sale: the new owner had to maintain as many trees, shrubs, and plantings as possible. This historic detail is part of what makes Tropicana so special – the setting is wonderfully lush, with royal palms, mango and cedar trees surrounding the entire club.

Originally known as El Beau Site, de Correa decided to rename the club Tropicana, because of its tropical atmosphere and “na” after the last syllable of the original owner, Mina. With a fanfare from the Alfredo Brito Orchestra, the Club Tropicana, opened on December 30, 1939. In 1950 Martín Fox, a burly, gregarious and well-connected gambler took over the place and this is when Tropicana’s glory years really began. Construction continued through 1951. Giant fruit trees were left in situ during construction to punctuate the interior. When the cabaret was re-opened on March 15, 1952, it had a combined total seating capacity of 1,700 for the interior and outside areas with furniture designed by Charles Eames.

But it was the arrival in Havana in 1946 of Floridian mobster Santo “Louie Santos” Trafficante Jr. that would alter the future of The Tropicana. Within a few years, Trafficante owned The Tropicana. The club served drinks and meals which just about covered the operating costs. It was suspected that he also had behind-the-scenes interests in other syndicate owned Cuban gambling casinos.

The list of celebrities who have graced Tropicana’s stage is long and illustrious: Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Libertad Lamarque, Cheo Feliciano, Rita Montaner, Elena Burke and Bola de Nieve all performed under the stars here back in the day. The showgirls at the Tropicana, known collectively as “Las Diosas de Carne” (or “Flesh Goddesses”), were renowned the world over for their voluptuousness, and the cabaret showcased a kind of sequin-and-feather musical theater that would be copied in Paris, New York, and Las Vegas

The Cuban Revolution was to have serious repercussions for the mob’s involvement in Cuba. As early as December 31, 1956, a bomb exploded at The Tropicana. Set by communist rebels, the explosion was contained to the bar area and one woman lost an arm. The new Cuban president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó closed the casinos and nationalized all the casino and hotel properties

In 1992, the American Academy of Restaurant Industry honoured Tropicana as the best cabaret in the Americas, awarding it the “Best of the Best Five Star Diamond.” It was singled out for its quality and rich history, with which it has been staging performances for over half a century.

The Tropicana continues to operate to this day, attracting tourists to its Cabaret Shows taking place at 10pm, Tuesday to Sunday, in the open-air Salon Bajo Las Estrellas.  Couple of tips if you want to experience a night at Tropicana:

  • Book on line or as soon as you arrive in Havana. If you hope that you will get a table at your arrival, without pre-booking forget it. Best case scenario you seats will be somewhere when you can only hear the music.
  • Arrive at Tropicana earlier; the show starts at 10PM but the best idea is to be there around 9.15PM. Even if you have an expensive ticket, the Maitre D’ will place you at the worst table for the price that you paid. Therefore, couple of minutes of negotiation, couple of notes discretely place in his hand (maximum 10-15CUC) and couple of smiles will make him to move you to a better place. I did that and it worked! And is quite nice to be early as a cameral orchestra is playing for 60 minutes light classical music.
  • When you buy a ticket, you have different options with different prices. I will not recommend to have dinner there; the service is mediocre and the food didn’t look amazing. Just go for the show. The different prices are linked to the table position and the type of drinks included
  • At the entrance, everybody receives a little present: a cigar for gentlemen and flowers for ladies. Don’t’ expect a Cohiba but if you don’t like cigars the one offered can be one of the presents for your return home.
  • The ticket includes a glass with sparkling wine, some nibbles and a ¼ l of Havana Club and coke per person, which is more than enough. You can order some extra cocktails (the Mojitos are surprisingly decent) and the prices are not much higher than in the town.
  • Don’t expect a courteous service or amazing customer service after you enter Tropicana. Everybody there possess a “rich clients” radar and if you are not keen to leave a tip at the end you will not get too many smiles. But the service is efficient and hassle free.
  • If you need a “technical break” for the next hour do it before the show or just before the end, The toilets are quite far and the queues are longer than the show girls legs

    At the end of the day you are there for the show. And is AMAZING! Almost 2 hours of nonstop dancing, live music, fabulous costumes and colours, excellent choreography and sensuality. A cocktail of iconic Cuban rhythms, mixed with rumba, mambo, danzonete and even Latin jazz, it’s accompanied by the hot choreography Tropicana is famous for. Breathtaking!

    The headliners are all fantastic but one. For me is still a mystery the inclusion in a night packed with high quality live acts of the Cuban version of IL DIVO. Actually was more than that or, worse than that: 5 male and 2 females singers killing evergreens and opera arias gave me the feeling that they enter the wrong stage. That was not Tropicana. Not necessary because of their voices (karaoke style) or the stage presence (inexistent) but was 100% playback. When the entire show was live and high quality the local Volo (the original band won San Remo in 2015) were lip-syncing quite badly. You couldn’t miss the audience reaction when the 7 singers sounded like Royal Opera cast singing the famous Brindisi from Traviata. But, is Cuba, and you don’t know who’s related with whom!

    After the show, if you are not very tired, a musical interlude (quite weird, something like a bad Britain got talent act) started the after-show party. Great MC bringing everybody from the audience on stage and excellent music. You can dance the night away until 1.30-2.00AM with no problems. And the advantage is that most of the tourist will be gone by that time and will be easy to find your way around and even to call a taxi to take you back home.

    Tropicana was at the pinnacle of high society in Cuba before 1959. It was the very best. But the existence of such a place has never been discordant with the revolution. And that explains why it has kept its doors open. Tropicana is the same as it has always been. The show can no longer be changed every two months, but it always fills up to capacity. There is no casino now, and Santo Trafficante is gone, but it still has the same spectacular shows and the same lush jungle. The story of Tropicana is a story like any other, composed of light and shadows, luz y sombras.

    “In the beginning, before God created Cuba, the earth was chaos, empty of form and without music. The spirit of God stirred over the dark tropical waters and God said, “Let there be music.” And a soft conga began a one-two beat in the background of the chaos” wrote Richard Blanco.

    https://youtu.be/m8KJ5EgTY3A

DISCOVERING CUBA – PALACIO DE VALLE

•January 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The crossroad of opulence, colonial memories and misfortune

There are many reasons why Cienfuegos in Cuba, has become one of the most outstanding regions of the country dating back to the 19th century, and this is mostly due to the historical and patrimonial legacy that today are merged into the heritage of a full-of-history city. Cienfuegos literally translates to “one hundred fires” but is dubbed La Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South). And for sure that the jewel of Cienfuegos is the overwhelming architectural exercise of Palacio De Valle.

pv4

 

The land was purchased by the dealer Don Acisclo del Valle, owner of several sugar cane plantations. When Acisclo Valle began to build its mansion in 1913, he could hardly imagine that the facility would eventually become a symbol of the Pearl of the South. The palace is located in the area of La Punta, National Monument of Cultural Heritage.

The terrain is located in Punta Gorda neighbourhood and was a wedding gift from Amparo Suero’s father, when she married Acisclo, a wealthy businessman. Rumour has it that the couple was on a trip to Spain when they decided to build a unique chalet.

The construction began in 1913 and the work was entrusted to Italian architect Alfredo Colli and foreman Juan Suarez and ended in 1917, costing a million and half pesos. It is Gothic influences, Romanesque, Baroque and Italianate combined with the Mudejar style, in vogue in Spain in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which make the building a architectural gem. It is assumed that craftsmen involved in this work were experts of different nationalities for each specialty.

The Spanish carver Antonio Barcenas made the gateway to the garden. The Frank Palacios from Cienfuegos created bronze railing of the staircase, the shields and ornaments of the front and all hardware. The painter Miguel Lamoglia decorated carved wood imitating the office of master of the house and painted the beautiful crystals allegories of Carrara marble staircase.

All materials were imported: Carrara marble, Italian alabaster, Venetian ceramics, ironwork and forgings from Granada, mosaics and glass made in Talavera  and European hardwood mahogany. In the interior decorations of the building, there are inscriptions that indicate the nationality of the artisans involved in its construction like this: “Lag log ila illegible,” a phrase from the Koran which means “Only God is God.”

The central plant is quite amazing. It is flanked by 2 sphinxes from Egyptian tales, with head and breast of a woman and body and paws of a lion that personify the sun. However, some people assume that this was not supposed to be the main entrance. Yet, its proximity to the marble stairway that leads to the second floor made it so.

The entrance is primitive Gothic style and leads to a dining room of Mudejar influence, which imitates the famous Patio of the Lions, of Alhambra, in Granada. Then comes the music and games room, of Luis XV style, and the foyer of Imperial style, with golden friezes, rosy marble baseboards, brass applications and white marble floor. The second floor has 8 bedrooms, plus living and study rooms. Behind the staircase can be found the kitchen with pantry. On the staircase giving access to private rooms, is a bevelled mirror, a jewel of art, where you can see coloured crystals transparent to the end of the afternoon, the sun’s rays, which illuminate a path where observed lowering of “Three Kings”

Vases of Italian and Chinese porcelain are scattered all over the palace. They evidence the opulence of bourgeois times in Cuba and a kind of construction that imitates foreign styles. They show us how Acisclo del Valle let his money and imagination drift freely. The owner’s initials are criss crossed into an artistic monogram in the ceramic floor.

The building ends in 3 towers: Gothic Roman, Indian and a mignonette of Arab style are crowning the roof with breathtaking views of Cienfuegos bay. The first symbolizes strength, love the second and third, religion as an institution.

The family didn’t enjoy too much this lavish sumptuous residence.  Couple of months after the inauguration the price of sugar dropped, the market collapsed and facing the pressure of a financial disaster Acisclo died in Cienfuegos at 4:00 PM on December 26, 1919, at age 54, as a result of a heart attack. In 1922 his widow decided to abandon the palace, return forever to Spain and transfer the mortal remains to his natal Arriondas, where they rest forever in the family pantheon.

Palacio de Valle became the Hunters’ Club for some time. In the 1950’s, an investment company bought the land on which stands the palace and Batista planned to convert this colourful riot of tiles, turrets and stucco into a casino. The Castro’s Revolution triumphed and the new authorities opened an Art School there. Today the Palacio de Valle is one of the symbols of Cienfuegos by architectural and historical values being one of Cienfuegos’s main attractions and hosting a restaurant dedicated to all lovers of art and Cuban cuisine. Among its many uses in recent decades, it served as a press centre for the Fourth Summit of Petrocaribe, a regional energy integration body, held here in late December 2007.

And at dusk, as I witnessed incredible tones of red and oranges over the sea,  the waves that bathe the bay stop to tell the stories about nostalgia and memories of the Palacio de Valle.

A TASTE OF CUBA (1)

•January 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

TRENDY VIBES IN OLD HAVANA – Restaurant HABANA61 

A night spent in Habana 61, the charming restaurant located in the northern part of Havana Vieja near El Museo de La Revolucion and Santo Angel Church, not very far from Plaza 13 de Marzo, is more than a dinner out. Is like being teleported in a very trendy restaurant in the famous area of Chueca in Madrid. But this is just because of deco and service style. When you open the menu, you realise that you didn’t leave Cuba at all.

The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere, only 10-12 tables with a decor very modern with a trendy vibe, it is the contrast of old Havana with clean and elegant interior. The restaurant is very popular and gets very busy after 8.00PM, therefore to book a table in advance is a great idea. Of course, you can walk in and wait at the bar and enjoying one of their great cocktails, hoping that your table will be available before you get too marry on their excellent Mojitos.

A very good sign is the menu: not very big and not very sophisticated granted the fact that everything is fresh and cooked on the spot. Even if you get lost in mouth-watering choices, the staff is there to give guide you in a nice contemporaneous culinary journey. Simple like that: Havana 61 proposes the enjoyment of traditional Cuban cuisine enhanced with contemporary ideas.

After the mandatory Mojitos we opted to share an Octopus Carpaccio and Fried Malanga. Malanga is a the root of a plant known for both its ornamental value, commonly known in the garden world as “elephant ear.”  Very high in fibre and calories “Frituras de Malanga” was absolutely delicious: crispy and tasty was served with “miel de ajo” a combination of honey and garlic which match with its fusion of flavours the texture of the fried root. I was ready to order another one when the charming waitress warn that I already ordered a little bit too much food and I need to leave some space for the next course. The “Carpaccio de Pulpo” was pure heaven, seasoned with the right type and amount of spices to let the overpowering flavour of the octopus to get the right touch of my palate.

A piece of advice: avoid the bred. Is so fresh, tasty and, even, cute that you will finish the basket before the food arrives at your table!

For the main course, we opted for two traditional Cuban dishes: “Camarones a la criolla” and “Ropa Vieja” and taking as sides banana chips and “Moros y Cristianos”. Thinking back, I am sure that the sides we choose can be a perfect lunch. I still don’t know how in Cuba they manage to make those amazing banana chips – they are crunchy with a delicious twist salty-sweet. “Moros y Cristianos” is a famous Cuban dish served at virtually every Cuban restaurant. It is the Cuban version of rice and beans: “Moors” refers to the black beans, and “Christians” to the white rice. The name of the dish is a reference to the Islamic invasion (early 8th century) of Spain and subsequent Reconquista (15th century) in which Spanish Christians were able to force the Islamic invaders back into Africa. In Spanish (and later Cuban tradition) it is to remind people of the years of oppression under Islamic rule. Just forget about  political correctness and enjoy it.

Ropa Vieja is one of the national dishes of Cuba, consisting of stewed beef with vegetables. It originates from a Sephardic dish from the Middle Ages. The version served in Habana61 was perfectly done and seasoned and the portion was quite generous without being overwhelming. Camarones a la criolla (Shrimp in Cuban Creole Sauce) is a tasty mix of shrimp and sweet tomato sauce served with or without rice. It is a quick and fail safe dish because they don’t use in Habana61 a lot of seasonings or spices, giving you the chance to enjoy the taste and texture of the shrimps. Absolutely divine!

To end our meal, we needed again the help of our charming and efficient waitress. And she decided for us to try for dessert one of the most extraordinary dishes I’ve ever had: “Casquitos de guyaba con queso cremoso y sopita de hierba buena” – a very light dessert mixing the sweet flavour of a ½ of a guava with the smooth texture and salty taste of a creamy cheese filling all on the right amount of powerful mint sauce. What a celebration!

img_6885

The staff knew how to keep a very comfortable balance between being friendly and being efficient and nothing was over the top, like in most touristic places, giving you the chance to enjoy the explosion of flavours on the table.

The drink list was impressive too with decent prices. But as all the wine were imported from Spain, I decided to have local beer (Bucanero) even if my choice will choice will horripilate the gourmands among my friends.

Believe or not the last surprise arrived with the bill at the end of our evening in Habana61. For the gastronomic festin with beers and Mojitos only 37CUC which is more or less £30.WOW!

Great service, from start to finish, and a memorable evening.

Thank you Habana61!

 

 HABANA61

CALLE HABANA NO.61, E/ CUARTELES Y PEÑA POBRE. LA HABANA, CUBA

+ 53 7 8016433

RESERVATION@PALADARHABANA61.COM