Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

Jun 20, 2007

Welcome aboard,
As always, my added comments to stories are in red.


Cunard Line announced on Monday the sale of QE2 to Dubai World, in a US$100 million deal which will turn this iconic liner into a first-class tourism destination at The Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.

In a press release sent to Ports & Ships by the local owner’s representative in Johannesburg, Carol McCarthy, it was revealed that the QE2 will be delivered to Dubai World in November 2008, where she will cease her role as an ocean-going passenger vessel and be refurbished and adapted for her new home. From 2009, the vessel will be berthed at a specially-constructed pier at The Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island, to create a luxury floating hotel, retail and entertainment destination.

The ship, which was launched by Queen Elizabeth II in September 1967, 40 years ago this year, is the longest-serving ship in Cunard’s 168-year history, and was their longest-serving flagship. Since she came into service in 1969, she has undertaken 25 world cruises, has crossed the Atlantic more than 800 times and has carried more than 2.5 million passengers.

QE2 has been purchased by Istithmar, the investment arm of Dubai World, a wholly owned company of the Government of Dubai. Nakheel, developer of The Palm Jumeirah, is also a Dubai World company.

Carol Marlow, president and managing director of Cunard, said:

“We are delighted that when her legendary career as an ocean liner ends there will continue to be a permanent home for her that will enable future generations to continue to experience fully both the ship and her history.”

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of Dubai World, said:

“QE2 is without a doubt one of the wonders of the maritime world, and is easily the most famous serving liner in the world today. I am delighted we will be able to create a home for her on the newest wonder of the world, The Palm Jumeirah.

“QE2 at The Palm Jumeirah will become one of the must-see experiences of Dubai and of the Middle East. We are investing in creating a truly global tourism destination.

“Dubai is a maritime nation and we understand the rich heritage of QE2. She is coming to a home where she will be cherished.”

Istithmar said its refurbishment programme will aim to recreate QE2’s original interior décor and fittings. QE2 at The Palm Jumeirah will also include a museum celebrating the rich history of the ship.

Well, this correspondent feels the time had come for something like this! The ship’s architecture could no longer hold a candle to modern cruise liner design and layout. The ship had absolutely no “wow” factor at all…she was – and is – essentially, large and bland and comfortable. She’ll make an adequate floating hotel…and I’m jolly glad she’s not going to the breakers.

Good luck, old girl, and I’ll remember with great affection my cruise on you down the South African coast some years back. Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel were on board too…and I thought the crowds were waving at me!!!

In an e-mail, Carol McCarthy wrote thus…

Hi Vernon

Many thanks – a sad goodbye but she has done us proud in her 40 years of service.

I attach the four farewell cruises for your interest.

Kind regards

Cunard has announced several swansong voyages…that will obviously be booked out well in advance.

There’s a 10-night ‘Farewell to the British Isles’ cruise from Southampton on 30 September, calling at Cork, Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh, returning to Southampton.

She sails trans-Atlantic penultimately on 10 October and her last ever crossing of The Pond commences from New York on 16 October
(and we hope she receives a send-off like nothing before!)

Then there there’s her final voyage…drenched in tears…Voyage to Dubai’ on 27 November….from Southampton to Lisbon, Gibraltar, Rome, Naples, Valetta, Alexandria, through the Suez Canal and – finally, her engines die forever in Dubai on 27 November…with nary a dry eye in the house!!!

The end of cruising era for absolutely sure. Obviously, the planned meeting up of three Queens in New York in December, will now be a meeting only between QUEEN MARY 2 and QUEEN VICTORIA…and that will be enough of a fuss as it is. Would that I could be a fly on the wall of the pier!!!!

This was how The Times (London) reported the news:

Queen of the cruise ships to end her days as Middle Eastern Hotel

She has travelled six million nautical miles, endured waves 29 metres (95ft) high, and ferried troops across the Atlantic to recapture the Falkland Islands, but after 40 years the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2’s seagoing life is about to end.

The Cunard cruise ship, which has clocked up more miles than any other passenger ship, will retire in November next year to become a floating hotel off the coast of Dubai.

She was sold by Cunard – a subsidiary of the British-American shipping giant Carnival – for $100 million yesterday to Dubai World, a corporation owned by the Dubai royal family.

The QE2 will be docked permanently at a pier connected to Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island created by Dubai as a tourist destination, where she will be transformed into a luxury hotel and museum.

The refurbishment, which is expected to cost as much as the ship herself, will transform the QE2 into a 21st-century hotel, although her owners say that much of the ship’s original 1967 decor will be restored.

Her nine engines, each the size of a double-decker bus, are expected to be removed to provide more space for the hotel.

Dubai World has yet to find a hotel operator for the 70,000-ton vessel, but believes that it will be a viable commercial enterprise despite the disastrous example set by the QUEEN MARY, which bankrupted her owners in 2005.

Cunard had said that it would run the QE2 until she was no longer profitable, but the prospect of new health and safety regulations coming into force in 2010 is thought to have hastened her retirement.

Carol Marlow, Cunard’s president, said that the QE2’s final voyage to Dubai was a fitting end to the ship’s career. “In ocean-going ship terms she has had a long life,” she said. “We received a very strong offer that allowed us to preserve the ship for further generations.”

It is a relief for the company, which admitted privately in 2005 that the ship could end up driven on to a beach in Pakistan to be dismembered for scrap if she did not find a buyer.

The QE2, which was built in the John Brown Shipyard on Clydebank between 1964 and 1967, has survived a career fraught with danger.

In May 1972 the SAS scrambled its bomb disposal squad 1,000 miles to board the ship after a hoaxer threatened to blow her up if he did not receive a ransom. Ten years later she hosted soldiers again when she was requisitioned as a troop transport for the Falklands conflict. She set sail for South Georgia on May 12, 1982, with 3,000 troops aboard.

In 1992 she hit uncharted rocks in Vineyard Sound between Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. She was damaged again in September 1995 when she was hit by a 29m wave whipped up by Hurricane Luis.

The ship – which has five restaurants, two cafés, three swimming pools, a pub, night-club, casino and 480-seat cinema – typically crossed the Atlantic 30 times every year and enjoyed an annual world cruise.

Her twin 6.7m (22ft) propellers can give her a top speed in excess of 32 knots. Her usual cruising speed is 28.5 knots, which burns 380 tonnes of fuel a day – the equivalent of 50ft per gallon.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of Dubai World, described the liner as a wonder of the world. “QE2 at the Palm Jumeirah will become one of the must-see experiences of the Middle East,” he said. “We are investing in creating a truly global tourism destination.” (TheTimes)

MARCO POLO mystery solved!

Orient Line’s ageing MARCO POLO has been sold, and now we know who to?

Global Maritime has bought the ship for US$30m. Global Maritime is a successor company to First Line, and is owned by a large Greek ship operator. The vessel is to be chartered to the German Transocean Tours for five-and-a-half years.

The deal will provide Transocean with three ships – the 18,591-ton ASTORIA, the 20,606-ton ASTOR and now the 22,080-ton MARCO POLO.

Transocean, according to the Berlitz Cruise Guide, appeals mainly to German passengers who appreciate quality, fine surroundings, and excellent destination-intensive itineraries, all packaged neatly in an informal ambiance. Many cruises have special themes

These ships have many repeat passengers, who enjoy the extremely friendly, mostly German crew
(who provide a fun crew show.)

The MARCO POLO sails exclusively for Transocean Tours from 2008. She is one of a few cruise ships from the German market with 'ice class', and will offer cruises to the Antarctic…
which the ship has done most successfully for more than a decade already.

According to the UK Transocean general sales agency, MARCO POLO will also offer 14 cruises marketed to the UK public…sailing out of Tilbury, to places like the Norwegian fjords…a fondness for German lager and eisbein will be a pre-requisite, one wonders?

The move will release the 23,149-ton ARIELLE from a two-year Transocean charter to return to Louis Line.

“So there we have it,” commented our publisher, Terry Hutson, “at least she isn't going to the knackers.” Or to be a floating hotel in Dubai, hey Terry!!!

Elizabeth Taylor on a cargo boat?

Brett Moore of the School of Shipping in Cape Town responded to the feature about cargo ship cruising two weeks ago. It is clear that Brett is also amenable to this form of cruising, as he revealed in an e-mail thus…

Hi Vernon,
I have sailed on a container ship (lucky to have my brother-in-law as first officer, and my sister on board with other friends).

It was cruise staff heckling you about pool games, bingo et al…no kids...just a lovely video library, lounge, bar, dining room, swimming pool, pleasant officers and crew…and food fit for a king!
Bar prices were set at REAL duty free prices! Not US $30.00 for a bottle of wine !!!

We had free reign of the ship, including the bridge and engine room. We enjoyed braai’s outside on deck and there were lovely ports of call where you could do exactly as you pleased.

So, what about the schedule? If you have nothing to do, then time does not influence your schedule. I read that old Larry Hagman (JR of ‘Dallas’ soapie fame) and Liz Taylor love this means of sea travel as they are not hounded by the masses on normal cruise ships.

Anyway I hope you get to experience this…up and down the South African coast is great…especially in winter when the seas are running!
Take care

Thanks Brett, and I’m still having difficulty picturing Elizabeth Taylor on a cargo boat? Yet, stranger things have happened, I’m sure. One can imagine the old screen siren lording it over the captain and crew, calling for Margaritas and canapés throughout the day, and lamenting the fact that the ship does not have luxury spa facilities, Broadway entertainment or endless dining options.

No, Brett, you can bet your bottom dollar that Liz doesn’t do cargo vessels!!!

Bookings open for Cunard’s three sisters

Cunard was in Johannesburg last week to present it itineraries for QUEEN MARY 2, QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and QUEEN VICTORIA…the grand new Cunard vessel due to debut this December.

Flavour of the year (2008, that is) will non-negotiably be the programme for the 90,000-ton QUEEN VICTORIA which, in this humble correspondent’s opinion, will be the most coveted cruise ship in the world next year. In other words, book now or forget it!

Why? Well, the historic Cunard brand carries enough influence already, and if to that you add a very stylish, British-flavoured ambiance and services…offer lots of verandah cabins and dining options, and then add a balconied Royal Court theatre with top-class entertainment…well, you watch the cruise loving public go mad for this one…the American market in particular. They went ga-ga over Princess Diana and they’ll go ga-ga for this “English Rose” too.

After the three Cunard ships meet up in New York this December – (what a public relations coup that will be) - the QUEEN VICTORIA embarks on a Southampton to Southampton world cruise, commencing on 6 January.

I’m tempted to sell everything and ensconce myself in a balcony cabin for those three and a half months…?…and then he woke up!
Can you imagine how many trip-of-a-lifetime desires will be satiated in that 108-day odyssey? Most of us can but dream..!

Following her Maiden World Cruise, QUEEN VICTORIA’s long anticipated Maiden Season includes…and I’m quoting from the very stylish new brochure…roundtrip voyages from Southampton to St Petersburg and the resplendent Baltic capitals, or Norway’s dramatic fjords. Alternatively, you can jet off to the Med for memorable voyages to myriad jewels…Dubrovnik and Venice along Adriatic shores…Ephesus and Istanbul on the Turkish coast, or the elegant Black Sea resorts of Odessa and Yalta, gorgeous Greek Isles and a many other wonderful places.

In November she’ll sail from Southampton to the Caribbean and back, by which time Cunard’s coffers should be swelling up hugely, don’t you think?

I am personally enormously attracted to the QUEEN VICTORIA. She’s much “prettier” than the QUEEN MARY 2, which is too much this, or too little that…and takes balcony cabins to the maximum that her architecture will allow.

Cunard ships – whether Cunard is prepared to concede this or not – are actually very snobbish enclaves indeed. The place you eat is directly dictated by how much you paid for your cabin. Those who can afford the top-end Grill class are also separated into the Queens Grill Restaurant and the less-expensive Princess Grill Restaurant, both on Deck 11…but please don’t get your station in life mixed up, will you!

Grill class passengers, meanwhile, are unlikely to have much to do with passengers dining down in “that canteen for the unwashed known as the Britannia Restaurant.” No-one would dare admit to such snobbery…but this offers great appeal to many customers, especially the super-rich, who battle to find exclusivity almost everywhere in the world. Imagine, for instance, being very wealthy and having to pass through a modern-day airport?…perish the thought!

Meanwhile, the QUEEN MARY 2, already enjoying a very loyal following, will offer multiple crossings of The Pond – salivate, salivate – whilst the tired old QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 will continue making a buck hither and thither in Europe and the Baltic. She’s being kept in excellent nick, and is actually as popular as ever.

But give me the new QUEEN VICTORIA any day, with enough dining options, entertainment aplenty, and an all-round appeal that will make any stay aboard an absolute treat. Those are my perceptions anyway.

Good luck to the Cunard brand, and if my “ship comes in” I’ll be heading straight for a cruise on one of the two new vessels…no ifs, buts or maybes!

Not so cool on NCL’s PRIDE OF ALOHA

Information to hand reveals that the air-conditioning on NCL’s new PRIDE OF ALOHA is more than not up to scratch.

Passengers, we gather, are positively “steaming” about their recent cruises. Imagine being in a stuffy cabin with no fresh, cool air coming in?

NCL says there were two two-week-long bouts with the same problem, but that they were “working on it!”

The problem is that air has gotten into the chilled-water air conditioning system. Chilled water is the medium that circulates around the ship and cools the air. When the water is displaced by air, it doesn't cool well. The remedy is to "bleed" out the air from the extensive system, and this is not a quick process.

Everything is so complicated today! How many of you recall the old “punkah louvre” system of air circulation in a ship? I remember it from the Union-Castle ship, the BRAEMAR CASTLE, on a short cruise from Beira to Durban around 1960.

In our cabin, down near the bilges, there was a round opening in the wall about 15 centimetres wide. Below it there was an open/shut lever, and when you opened it, a blast of air came gushing into the cabin. That air, of course, streamed through the ship from those outside bent “funnels” that faced forward – if you know the proper name, do let me know – and captured the natural flow of air with the ship’s forward motion.

It was not cooled or heated in any way – perhaps it was…I’m not sure? Consequently, a cabin could be freezing cold or unbearably hot, but at least you could open or shut the ventilation system at will. Sailing over the Equator could hardly have been comfortable?

How technology has changed. Trouble is, when the air-con system on a modern cruise liner breaks down, the result is chaotic. Conditions below become unbearable…passengers flee topside…and Americans immediately start litigating.

NCL told passengers it would be compensated them appropriately, “depending on the level of discomfort they experience." You bet they will!!!

If you’re sailing on PRIDE OF ALOHA any time soon, bring along some shorts, and a pack of ‘wet-wipes’!!!! Actually, a report reassured passengers that the problem would be solved by the end of last week.

Two 86,000-tonners will be H-A’s largest!

Carnival Corporation’s Holland-America brand is to get a second Eurodam-class ship in 2010.

The first 86,000-ton ship is already under construction at Fincantieri's Marghera yard and set for delivery next year. While they are considered mid-sized by industry standards, these two ships will be HAL's largest.

Carnival Chairman Micky Arison said: "Holland America Line is performing very well and its growth is consistent with our business strategy for the premium segment of our business which seeks to capitalise on the increasing affluence of the baby boomer generation." He added that exercising the option for this second Eurodam vessel would strengthen HAL's position in the premium sector.

EURODAM II will feature a 144-seat speciality restaurant, outside glass elevators at midships and expanded spa facilities. Two thirds of the accommodations will have private verandas, and only 15 percent of the staterooms will be insides.

Last week’s order brings to 12 the total number of ships Carnival has on order with Fincantieri, and 17 overall. The company currently operates 85 ships with a total capacity of 155,000 berths.

If any of you have sailed on Holland America you will have felt the distinct ambiance that sets this line apart. Lots of warm, darker tones in the décor, with expansive sea-battle murals featured in main public rooms. Very appealing, to be sure. Definitely baby-boomer territory…given that this correspondent is one of those!

Port Canaveral to lose 7-day RCI cruises!

Last week we reported that Royal Caribbean is repositioning the 137,276-ton MARINER OF THE SEAS to Los Angeles in 2009.

RCI has decided to withdraw from the 7-day market at the Central Florida port for the short term in 2009, ending 7-day itineraries from the port for at least a year.

The 73,192-ton SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS will remain at Port Canaveral operating 3- and 4-night cruises to the Bahamas.

I guess you move a ship if it ain’t workin’ out…not attracting enough passengers, you know? Port Canaveral is so well placed for all central and northern Florida business one might think cruises would be full? But that’s how cruising works – or doesn’t! One false move and these huge companies begin to bleed immediately.

Oh well, more business lined up for DISNEY MAGIC and DISNEY WONDER, both of which are home-ported at Port Canaveral, with its oh-so modern cruise terminal.

114,000-ton VENTURA gets wet!

P&O's next ship, the 114,000-ton VENTURA, floated out of the building dock at Fincantieri's Monfalcone yard last week.

Delivery is set for early next year.

A sister to VENTURA is also on order with Fincantieri, and is slated for delivery in 2010.

The battle lines are drawn!

If you think that Europe is the only major growth area in cruising, there’s a battle royal developing between the two biggest players elsewhere at this very moment.

Last week we established that Royal Caribbean’s MARINER OF THE SEAS would be sailing around South America – how very nice – to operate on America’s West Coast.

The 137,276-ton MARINER OF THE SEAS is one of RCI’s “big guns” vessels, and is destined to lure the crowds from the more affluent areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Carnival Corporation clearly twigged what was going on, and has suddenly announced that it is despatching its brand new CARNIVAL SPLENDOR to this neck of the woods too!

At the end of CARNIVAL SPLENDOR’s 2008/2009 Caribbean season, the 112,000-ton ship will reposition to Southern California for a year round 7-day Mexican Riviera programme. This ship is the line's newest, largest and most feature-rich ship.

CARNIVAL SPLENDOR will boast 68 spa staterooms and suites with direct access to the enlarged 40,000-square-foot spa. It will also offer a Carnival Seaside Theatre, a Camp Carnival and a water spray park.

It's clearly Carnival's most high-profile ship, and the last one they will have delivered until the fall of 2009, meaning the line will be forgoing the opportunity to put a “best” ship forward in other high-profile summer markets, such as Europe or Alaska.

So, it appears, MARINER OF THE SEAS’ secondment to the West Coast certainly sounds like open competition…so let’s wait for the first shots across each other’s bows!

Carnival has had the year round 7-day market from Southern California to itself for quite a few years. One thing’s for sure, passengers on the West Coast are going to benefit with new types of cruise experiences aboard some very exciting new cruise ships.

If I were to choose, I’d go for CARNIVAL SPLENDOR, in one of those spa staterooms. Yes, please, some around-the-clock pampering will do, and to hell with what’s going on ashore! What say you?

Three Princesses to grace South American waters!

Princess Cruises will make its mark with South American offerings in 2008/09 season.

Three ships – the 109,000-ton STAR PRINCESS, ROYAL PRINCESS (can’t find the gt) and the 30,277-ton PACIFIC PRINCESS will offer 21 sailings on six different itineraries, as well as introduce new cruise-tours to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu.

"South America is on a 'wish list' of travel experiences, and we're excited to be growing our presence there," said a spokesperson for Princess.

Itineraries include the southern portion of South America, sailing around the Horn (how I’d love to do this before I die!), and including stops in the Falkland Islands, as well as sightseeing from the ship in Antarctica. This is becoming a contentious issue because too many cruise lines are polluting these waters, despite their claims to the contrary.

The 670-passenger PACIFIC PRINCESS will sail nine cruises up the Amazon. The 14-day cruises will sail between Ft. Lauderdale and Manaus (Brazil), while ROYAL PRINCESS will operate two cruises on a new route between Ft. Lauderdale via the Panama Canal to Guayaquil (Ecuador).

I’ve booked on every one of these cruises…in my dreams, of course! Magnificent scenery, jungle “dangers”, sexy Latin vibes, brilliant cuisine, tequila, some tango, tango, tango and makin’ whoopee…like sooo bring it on!!!

Costa gets clever about Dubai

Dubai has a terrific cruise terminal…if anything a trifle under-used?

No wonder Costa plans to home-port Costa and sister brand AIDA vessels here on a long-term basis. Clever move, dudes!

Costa has signed a five-year deal with the Dubai Dept of Tourism and Commerce Marketing for cross promotion of each other. The agreement calls for joint promotion of each other, with special attention to Asia and the People's Republic of China, areas in which Carnival Corp has been keen on expanding.

To prove its serious intentions, Costa will open an office in Dubai. Moreover, Costa and the Carnival brands will get berthing preference…that’ll put a few other noses out of joint, hey?

Arabian Gulf cruises, embarking in Dubai, are a hot (like 45 degrees Centigrade hot!!!) new programme for European cruisers who have “been there and done that” in the Mediterranean, and who are now looking for new ports of call and a new destination.

Been to Dubai, any of you out there? Oh what an incredible place…a full manifestation of the potential power of a benevolent dictatorship.

Dubai is about business…not politics…politics ain’t allowed! Consequently, there is progress on an unprecedented scale…a scenario so awesome that seeing is believing!

Dubai is where I had the best meal I have had at any hotel venue in the world…given that I am very “into” Middle Eastern cuisines. Lunch at the revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt Hotel left me feeling so full and bloated that it took me a good 24 hours to recover! There were so many international cuisines to choose from, it was inevitable that gluttony would rule the day. The ever-changing city and harbour views were sublime too. Remember it…the Hyatt Hotel. (No…I’m not being paid to write this!)

An Indian meal at another hotel, its name has slipped from memory, was decidedly the best Indian food that I have ever savoured. Until then, I had had no idea how varied Indian cuisine could be, given that each dish had some element of curry or sharp spicing to it. Un-for-get-table!!!

From about 2010, when all the current extravagant projects (though others are bound to be on the go) come to fruition, Dubai will become the leading tourist Mecca on this planet…mark this humble correspondent’s words…read my lips!
See ya’all there!

Back to the real world until next Wednesday, then…

In Johannesburg



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