Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

Jun 26, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Welcome aboard,

My own comments, as always, are in red.

It’s about cuisine, service and attention to detail!!! This year’s world beaters

Having reviewed 276 cruise ships – a record number – the Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2007 names the best performers for 2007.

“Despite constant cruise company claims that theirs has been named the “Best Cruise Line” or “Best Cruise Ship”, there really is no such thing – only what’s right for you,” writes Douglas Ward, the publisher.

“Most ship owners want to be “luxury” cruise operators, and most passengers want to sail aboard on one of the top-rated “luxury” ships. But few operators can really deliver a ship, product and crew worthy of five Berlitz stars.

For the 2007 edition, only one ship has achieved the score required for it be awarded membership of this most exclusive club…

It’s Hapag Lloyd Cruise’s EUROPA…..again!

Why? “Because there is outstanding cuisine and attentive, very attentive, friendly yet unobtrusive personal service from a staff dedicated to working aboard the world’s finest cruise ship. But it’s not just the ship itself and its facilities and appointments that contribute to the ship’s high rating – it’s also in the extensive array of details and personal attention from a fine, dedicated crew. It all adds up to the very best cruise ship and cruise experience available today – unless you own a private motor yacht.

“Also, thanks to the pod propulsion system, there is absolutely no vibration anywhere,” writes Doug Ward.

How extremely interesting! According to Ward then, a top class cruise liner is a lot more to do with the people working on board than the actual hardware. Come to think of it, doesn’t that apply to a hotel on land too?

A ship or a hotel is a place where you pay to be welcomed, and if every crew or staff member you encounter makes you feel special, well, the hardware or building will become more attractive too…not so?

The EUROPA get this accolade from Ward every year…and you can be sure that the Berlitz exposure results in hardly an empty cabin – er, stateroom - on any cruise. I mean, whom among us reading this wouldn’t now kill to cruise on the EUROPA?

Douglas Ward’s other most highly rated vessels, in order, are…
QUEEN MARY 2 (Grill Class only…
which is quite revealing, what?)

The common thread here is more than one ship in any particular cruise company getting the high ratings. This reflects an individual company strategy to create optimum standards. They are all, of course “expensive” cruise lines.

It also appears to be an advantage if your ship name begins with an ‘S’??? Weird!

“What counts are cuisine and service, and attention to detail,” writes Douglas Ward. “At a time when cruise lines are making economies, these criteria are more important than ever.”

And so say all of us, Doug.

I guess it’s this philosophy that also sets airlines apart…you know, think Singapore Airline, Thai Airways, Emirates, Qatar, Etihad…et al.

One could reel off a much longer list of airlines where optimum standards do not exist!!!

But hey, this is a cruise column, so let’s get to it….

Young man missing from FREEDOM OF THE SEAS

A 24-year-old man went missing from Royal Caribbean’s
158,000-ton FREEDOM OF THE SEAS last week.

En route from Miami to San Juan, the man was winding up his first evening aboard by relaxing on the balcony of his stateroom. That's where he was last seen by a family member sharing his cabin and a friend at 1:45am (by then Monday morning). Ouch, isn’t this how that Mr Smith went missing last year?

In the morning, the staff began their procedure to find the man on the
ship. That included paging him, a search, and broadcasting his picture internally.

On a ship the size of FREEDOM OF THE SEAS, "missing" passengers are typically reported several times each week.

There was no response, so Royal Caribbean turned the ship around, and it began to retrace its route, more than a hundred miles since he had been last positively seen at 1:45am.

The Coast Guard dispatched two aircraft, and the FBI, the Bahamian Maritime Authority and other ships in the area got involved. .

Since FREEDOM had retraced its route a second time without success, the Coast Guard advised Royal Caribbean to continue on
their way…and the ship continued on to San Juan.

It is unknown if the man or his body was eventually found.

Could one even begin to imagine the horror of falling off a ship?…seeing the vessel sail away from you…and you know you can tread water for only so long. This poor fellow wouldn’t even have been wearing a life-jacket. His poor family…really!

…And another very sad story!

A passenger fell to his death while NORWEGIAN MAJESTY was in Bermuda last week.

This time, however, the fall wasn't from a balcony into the ocean but instead, on an inside stairway.

The 22-year-old man, who was travelling with a large family group, returned to NCL’s 40,876-ton vessel after having been out to a nightspot in St. George's.

Evidently, around midnight, he and his cousin were at the ship's disco. While on the stairs, the man apparently tried to slide down the banister, and fell about four decks through the opening in the middle of the stairway.

Two nurses attended to him and reported he had sustained head injuries. He succumbed to his injuries at the local hospital.

A few drinks ashore, lots of fun and full of the joys of life…and then a split-second decision…to slide down a banister. A life ended all too soon! How easily it can happen. May their souls rest in peace!

PRINCESS to send two ships world cruising in 2009

Princess has announced that the 670-passenger PACIFIC PRINCESS will go on a world cruise in January 2008.

In 2009, it will send two ships around the globe.

TAHITIAN PRINCESS will sail from Ft Lauderdale on 14 January (2009), followed six days later by the ROYAL PRINCESS. By utilising two of the small (30,000-ton) ships, rather than scheduling one larger
vessel, Princess is again able to offer the unique intimate experience of sailing with only about 700 other passengers on their world cruises.

Both itineraries will be 107 days. Yes, Princess does expect both ships to sell out quickly, even without selling segments of the trip.
What a lovely thought…the smaller ships do indeed have their charms…what say you, folks? You at least get to know some fellow travellers.

The comings and goings at Carnival!

Carnival’s quarterly earning call has revealed…

+ It made money last quarter

+ Pricing is strong for the European brands, but weaker for American brands, especially for shorter itineraries.

+ They found ships were filling without having to discount quite so heavily.

+ Group business is up, indicating that travel agents were again feeling that the group pricing was the best they were going to do.

+ The rapid pace of new building is coming to an end.

+ Most of the ships being built will be for European brands.

+ Between now and the end of 2010, Carnival has 17 ships on order.
Seven are for North American brands (including the two relatively small ships for Seabourn), and nine are for European brands).

+ Currently (at the end of 2007), 69 percent of Carnival's capacity will be in North American brands and 31 percent will be operated by European brands. By the end of 2010, that will shift 62 percent (in North American brands) and 38 percent (in European brands).

+ The market for cruise holidays is continuing to grow; new customers are coming along every day. The question is if they will be coming faster than Carnival is adding berths?

+ Ships will be leaving the established brands in several ways. One ship will in 2009 be going to the new joint venture with German travel conglomerate TUI. Two other ships will be removed from the existing brands to the new joint venture with Iberojet.

+ The oldest tonnage will probably be leaving the fleet. The company's goal is to modernise the fleet, and this is an excellent time to be selling ships, “because the second-hand ship market is very strong right now,” said Carnival Chairman Micky Arison. One of the older vessels could be ideal for cruising off the South African coast! Who wants to go into business with me…bring about US $ 150 million with you, OK? Cool!

+ The Asian venture is not growing as wished…the Chinese are not lining up to go on its cruises year round…the market is seasonal, so it’s changed the itineraries and is now offering 14-day programmes that will draw Europeans and Americans to them. The 14-day programmes are selling at reasonably good prices…an opportunity for Western passengers to cruise in Asia at a relative bargain price.

Clearly Mr Arison and his senior team have intense meetings in the boardroom. It’s all well and good being the world’s largest cruise operator, but how to keep it all sailin’ smoothly clearly ain’t for amateurs. Dare one even consider or even talk about the day someone does a 9/11 on a cruise liner? Ships sailing freely are so vulnerable. Let’s not even go there…even though I just did!

Another Star in the east…

Finally, news just in is that the Malaysia-based Star Cruises is seconding SUPERSTAR AQUARIUS to Hong Kong.

The 51,000-ton vessel is the former NORWEGIAN WIND, which has only recently been transferred from Norwegian Cruise line to parent entity, Star Cruises.

Star has been experiencing steady growth in the China market, and according to David Chua Ming Huat, president of Star Cruises Ltd, the world’s third largest cruise line intends to bring "bigger and more luxurious" ships to the region as the line "expands further into the China market."

I once had a voyage out of Hong Kong on the SUPERSTAR LEO. I was one of a mere handful of non-Chinese passengers aboard, which made it an intensely Oriental experience…just a little too intense for me. I was left in little doubt that this was a “gambling” ship, and that passengers came aboard to eat and gamble. The food was exquisite!
The rest was not to my palate…even though she was a beautiful ship.

One assumes that SUPERSTAR AQUARIUS has an expansive casino to pander to the Chinese predilection for gaming? On the other hand, however, with Macao having become such an extraordinary mecca for gaming, isn’t having a flutter on a cruise liner going to be old hat to the people of Hong Kong?

Will SUPERSTAR AQUARIUS’s itineraries have appeal for westerners? If my Star contact in Australia, Peter French, is reading this…or Stewart Venn from Triton Cape Sea Travel…perhaps you would care to enlighten us, gentlemen?

Till next Wednesday,

In Johannesburg



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