Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

May 30, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Welcome aboard

I was away for a week, during which time nothing earth shattering happened in the world of cruising. Not that there isn’t plenty going on all the time, and things can change in a flash…which they do!

Cruising - in this correspondent’s humble opinion - is the most astounding component in the entire world of travel…no ifs, buts or maybes…and land operators are going to have to catch a wake up if they intend to go on luring the masses to their lack-lustre and over-priced resorts.

Would I prefer to cruise on a modern liner or go to a luxury hotel in Mauritius, for example? The Mauritian resort is static, while my cruise liner takes me to a new destination every morning…and I didn’t even have to pack or unpack.

My liner offers up to 10 restaurant choices, and no land-based hotel can offer the variety of entertainment available on ships today.

To me it’s a no-brainer…cruising on the right ship (for you) is the travel choice of the future…and the sheer numbers who opt for this mode of travel will speak for themselves.

The airlines stole passengers from passenger ships…and I feel stones for the fact that the reverse has become the case. Travelling in airline economy class these days has become a humiliation, never mind the pleasure having been all but removed. Do I want to share a toilet with 60 other people?…no I don’t!

I remember the era when air travel was an absolute pleasure, and the journey was decidedly part of the holiday. Today you enter a tube and are tempted to anaesthetise yourself with a teensy-weensy triple as soon as possible in order to get through the night. You arrive feeling soiled from a human intimacy you would not ordinarily tolerate, and could seriously have done without.

Business class is lovely, but the price is most definitely not. Two drinks, two meals and two piddles for R30 000? No way, Jose!

I’d rather forgo all that, drive to a port and get aboard a luxury floating resort and sail off into an MGM sunset to live happily ever after. Anyway, enough of that for now!

Brett Moore, principal lecturer at the School of Shipping in Cape Town must have enjoyed last week’s column about ships this correspondent would love to cruise on.

Hi Vernon
I thoroughly enjoyed your review today. It was in a different format, a pleasure to read and if I may say, a lot more professional. Keep up the good work…I look forward to reading your weekly article.
Many thanks

Hey, that’s cool…a bit of affirmation is always appreciated…thanks, Brett.

Some weeks ago I had asked Brett about this School of Shipping, and he replied thus…

Thanks for the opportunity to let your readers know what we do at School of Shipping!

We offer shore based maritime studies throughout South and southern Africa on a full time or part time basis and through distance learning. The School has full accreditation and a 95 percent competency rate. Our web site is
Kind regards
Brett Moore
Principal Lecturer

So, you know what to do if you wish to know more.

Also heard from my former client and friend, Stewart Venn, MD of Triton Cape Sea Travel in Cape Town.

Hi Vernon,

Thanks for the entertaining column every Wednesday - fun to read. Can we do a small advert - do you know what it would cost?

The only problem for us is that the adverts at the top of your column are often from US internet cruise operators who are causing us and our colleagues in the UK and Australia, and probably elsewhere, huge problems by undercutting our pricing massively.

Regards, Stewart.

Thanks for the kind words, Stewart. The Internet – I don’t have to tell you, Stewart - is an open-shootin’ gallery. None of us will ever be able to change that. I personally think the Internet is an uncontrollable MONSTER, but that’s the way it is, and we’ve all gotta do what we’ve gotta do to stay alive, never mind stay in business!

Where it all ends, I certainly don’t know?…but in the meantime, Stewart, you could do worse than place an advert above the dudes who you feel are threatening you.

Our publisher, Terry Hutson, welcomes advertising …and it all goes out to a readership that is growing daily.

Then, I received an e-mail from a friend and fellow cruise lover, Jenny Arthur, who handles the PR for Cruises International, the local sales agent for Royal Caribbean here in Johannesburg.

Jenny is clearly sparked about the appointment of a female captain on a giant cruise liner.

Dear Vernon

Such an exciting announcement…and what an achievement. Anyone who has seen the size of these mega-ships will no doubt share my complete awe for this special lady (especially as I find parallel parking a car rather daunting every now and then!)

Best wishes, Jenny

Yes, Jenny dear, it’s the “parallel parking” bit we guys may have a bit of hang up about. Ships have to be parallel parked, and we can’t have this dolly bird reversing into the ship behind her, you know!

No point in putting on some lipstick and opening your blouse when that happens…ain’t gonna be no cop around to seduce in a harbour!!! And you can’t say: “Forgive me for doing that…I’m just a girl after all.”

Dear oh dear, tempted as I am to go on being a vile chauvinist pig just for the sake of it, the truth is that I’m just as impressed as Jenny is. Women have intellect, for goodness sake, so why the hell shouldn’t a dame be the captain of a large ship? What took so long, for goodness sake?

So, let’s now go straight to the story of this historic development in our maritime world…my own comments in red, as usual…

Yikes…a woman driver!!!

Royal Caribbean International has named Swedish mariner, Karin Stahre-Janson, captain of MONARCH OF THE SEAS, making her the first female captain in the line's 21-ship fleet and the first woman in the industry to command a major cruise ship.

Captain Stahre-Janson is responsible for the safe navigation of a ship that routinely carries 2,400 guests and 850 crew.

Prior to joining Royal Caribbean, Karin worked for nine years in cargo shipping, primarily on petroleum and chemical tankers where, ultimately, she served as chief officer.

Starting out as first officer on VIKING SERENADE and NORDIC EMPRESS, Karin became chief officer while on VISION OF THE SEAS and continued that role on RADIANCE OF THE SEAS.

Adding still another stripe, she was named staff captain on BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS, and also served in that capacity on SERENADE OF THE SEAS and MAJESTY OF THE SEAS.

"We are tremendously proud and pleased by Captain Stahre-Janson's promotion," said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International. "This is historic news - for our company and the entire cruise industry - and a tremendous inspiration for women in any line of work, particularly a maritime career."

A native of Stromstad, Sweden, a town on the Nordic country's west coast, Karin learned to sail from her parents at the age of seven in a small boat given to her by her parents. Growing up, she attended sailing camp, taught sailing and competitively raced tall ships.

"I hope my achievements can serve as an example to young women around the world and inspire them to work toward their dreams - no matter how unusual they may be," said Captain Stahre-Janson.

Karin…you go, girl!!! We’ll be watching your parallel parking. Imagine if something did go wrong?…the male chauvinists would be bleating loudly, you can bet!

Empress holed

A cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Alaska two weeks ago and was taking on water as its 281 passengers were being transferred to nearby ships. The EMPRESS OF THE NORTH was listing badly after hitting a rock.

Louis buys OPERA

Cyprus-based cruise operator Louis has bought a 1992-built ship from Sea Containers for US $ 49m to replace the recently lost SEA DIAMOND. It has also chartered another vessel, expanding its total fleet to 14.

The newly acquired 25,611-ton OPERA carries 1,278 passengers.

A statement says: “This new addition to the Louis fleet will operate 3- and 4-day cruises from the port of Piraeus for Louis Hellenic Cruises starting this coming July as SEA DIAMOND’s replacement."

It continued: “Today’s acquisition follows the charter of MV RUBY (ex OCEAN COUNTESS) that was announced yesterday. MV RUBY has been chartered from 28 May up until 28 October 2007 and will be replacing OCEANIC II in the operation of the short cruise programme out of Piraeus until July.

MV RUBY can carry 884 passengers in 410 cabins. From July onwards, she will be replaced by MV OPERA. The charter forms part of Louis Hellenic Cruises’ efforts for the smooth and uninterrupted provision of services to its passengers.”

Three days in Bermuda?…. What does one do for three days in Bermuda?

Next year, Norwegian Cruise Line will be expanding its presence in the 7-day Bermuda market.

NCL will have three ships in the market. NORWEGIAN DAWN will be sailing from New York, making it the city's only 7-day cruise to Bermuda.

NORWEGIAN MAJESTY will operate 7-day itineraries from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charleston. Replacing NORWEGIAN MAJESTY in Boston will be NORWEGIAN DREAM.

"By adding ships and more departure points, we will continue to meet the strong demand for cruising to Bermuda from the East Coast," said NCL president Colin Veitch.

"And now, for the first time, we have positioned NORWEGIAN DAWN, one of our panamax ships that is purpose-built for Freestyle Cruising, on a New York to Bermuda seven-day itinerary offering three full days in Bermuda."

I would love to see the full itinerary…revealing what you can do over three days in Bermuda? Second prize…a week in Bermuda?

“I name this ship…!” (in French, of course!)

Costa took delivery of COSTA SERENA last week, and the 114,000-ton vessel was christened in Marseilles by French actress Marion Cotillard, (who’s she?…forgive my ignorance!) and will enter regular service on 27 May in Venice.

"The delivery of the COSTA SERENA," said Costa chairman Pier Luigi Foschi, "fills us with great pride and satisfaction. She is an innovative ship, a showcase of cutting-edge technology that will set Costa even further apart from other cruise operators. (I don’t think MSC will agree with you, Pier Luigi…do you?)

“Also, with the arrival of the COSTA SERENA the Costa Crociere fleet is now 12 strong, enabling us to consolidate our brand leadership in the rapidly expanding European market.”

Haven’t we heard something similar from MSC? En garde…let the battle begin!!! Don’t worry… it has already!

“We're now nearing the one million mark,” said Snr. Foschi, “which was our set objective for the end of this year. In just five months in 2007 we have already clocked up about 880,000 bookings, equalling the entire volume of guests carried in 2006.

“With three more ships already ordered and all due for delivery by 2010, another record-breaking milestone for the Costa Crociere brand is already taking shape…1.5 million guest reservations in 2010."

Interior architect Joe Farcus (who’s created the zany Carnival interiors) has chosen Greek and Roman mythology as the central theme, so Costa is referring to COSTA SERENA as "the ship of the gods." It includes 5,990 works of art by 34 international artists.

Don’t know about you…but I’m DYING to cruise on one of these state-of-the-art liners. Any offers?…promise to write about it!

Another Solstice is confirmed!

Royal Caribbean has signed up for a fourth, as yet unnamed, Solstice-class ship for its Celebrity brand, and the new ship will be delivered in the fall of 2011.

The first of the series, CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, will enter service in the autumn of 2008, and then be followed by one every year until 2011.

"This expansion is yet another vivid illustration of the incredibly exciting growth and momentum behind the Celebrity brand," said RCCL chairman Richard Fain.

The 122,000-ton Solstice-class ships will each have 1,425 staterooms and suites, 90 percent of which will be outside, and 85 percent of all accommodations will have private balconies. They will have diesel engines and pod propulsion systems. (Pod failures have cost Celebrity a fortune…the Mermaid brand. I have a ship’s engineer friend who says he would not use pods on any vessel for at least the next five years. It’s an imperfect technology, he says. Which may be true, but not all vessels are being troubled. I’m attracted to the idea because pods negate vibration, truly enhancing the cruise experience.)

RCCL estimates the all-in cost will be approximately $ 280,000 per berth. (Do take this amount into account when ordering your next cruise liner. I just cancelled mine!)

Going directly ashore in George Town

On the cards is a proposed four-berth facility that will allow ships to dock at George Town in Grand Cayman for the first time.

Currently, all cruise ships calling at Grand Cayman must anchor and tender the passengers ashore.

This, of course, is big news in the Cayman Islands, where cruise tourism is a major industry. Ships being able to dock, rather than tender, would allow passengers to spend more time ashore, and that means they would be spending more money on the island.

This can be a vastly significant amount, considering the proposed berths would be able to handle any megaliner now in service or on the drawing boards.

The government has now confirmed that Carnival and Royal Caribbean (surprise, surprise?) are the two companies involved in the talks for a joint collaboration.

I was tendered ashore off MAJESTY OF THE SEAS in George Town some years back. It’s one of the better Caribbean destinations. We went offshore to Stingray City to swim with the sting rays…the creature that took out Australian TV-star, Steve Irwin.

These fellers were well used to humans swimming around them. They even took food from our hands, using suction like a vacuum cleaner. I was very uneasy for about 15 minutes, trust me! It’s a ritual that’s been going on for many years, I gather.


The fourth of the industry's superliners to be christened within two weeks, Royal Caribbean's LIBERTY OF THE SEAS, was officially named in a ceremony in Miami last week.

Royal Caribbean paid homage to travel agents and their importance to the company by choosing an agent, Donnalea Madeley, to be the ship's godmother.

A third Freedom-class ship, INDEPENDENCE OF THE SEAS, will be delivered next May.

Yes, I’m eager to give one of these leviathans a bash…even just once! I accept that this is very much mass-market appeal, but I’m sure there are elements of megaliner cruising that would impress me. Queuing for meals would put me off forever!

A premium cruise product for the Oz market

SUN PRINCESS is going ‘down under’ permanently (or as permanent as anything is in the cruise industry).

The ship will be providing a premium cruise product for the Australian market.

The itineraries have been designed primarily to appeal to the local Australian market, but they will be so unique they will also have an appeal for the well-travelled American cruiser, and will be readily available to book in North America.

There will be some customising of the onboard product for local tastes (tweaking of entertainment, and onboard prices in Australian dollars), but overall it will still be recognizable to American customers as the Princess product with which they are familiar.

This is the first time a US cruise line has based a ship year-round in Australia.

SUN PRINCESS will initially begin sailing from Sydney in November (2007). Over the course of the year, it will be operating programs from Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

DAWN PRINCESS will debut in Australia in 2008.

I long for the day when an upmarket cruise line has the guts to launch a luxury ship in South African waters. As I’ve said before, there is a market for a Cape Town to Mombasa itinerary, incorporating the Indian Ocean islands. You don’t even have to pitch the operation at South Africans…the Brits, Europeans and probably Americans would snap up the opportunity to do some truly exotic cruising.

I’m surprised that MSC, which already operates MELODY in these waters seasonally, just doesn’t run with the idea? Wouldn’t the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 be ideal? She’s big enough to make mincemeat of the robust winter storms in the Indian Ocean.

The Cunard brand would attract the passengers automatically. So okay…waffle, waffle, waffle…! Someone will do it eventually…mark my words.


Oh no!…I’ve just read in the Weekly Telegraph that the hull of the CUTTY SARK was destroyed this week in a catastrophic fire. All three decks were destroyed.

Experts estimated the damage at more the 10 million pounds, but questioned whether the ship could ever be rebuilt properly.

Her contents were saved because they had been removed for repairs. (Thank goodness for that.)

Oh hell…what a depressing story! I’m glad I’ve seen her at Greenwich intact!

Till next week then…

In Johannesburg



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