Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Reviews

Jul 11, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Welcome aboard…
My comments, as usual, as in red.

You can thank the Lord for that…!

A cruise line saved from extinction by shipping magnate Lord Sterling will return to passenger service next May.

Formerly part of P&O, Swan Hellenic was taken over by giant shipping company Carnival. Its operation was due to cease this year until Lord Sterling stepped in to buy the company.

When Lord Sterling bought Swan Hellenic Cruises from Carnival Corp last April, it was a cruise line without a ship. Last week he announced that he had secured the original MINERVA which the line sold when it acquired MINERVA II.

The line's first programme will commence in May 2008. It will happen as part of a joint venture with the All Leisure Group, which operates m/v DISCOVERY and has the 350-berth MINERVA under long-term lease.

The new version of Swan Hellenic will pretty much pick up where the original one left off. In announcing the return to operation, Sterling said, "Swan passengers will again be able to enjoy discovering new destinations with the Swan Hellenic team, in the company of our distinguished guest speakers and former ship's officers and crew. This will include a further exploration product for expedition cruising in Antarctica.

“Looking to the future, we are actively examining further opportunities to return to river cruising and acquiring a further appropriate vessel,” said the former chairman of shipping company P&O.

Brochures for Swan Hellenic's 2008/2009 programmes will be available from mid-July. MINERVA will be based at the port of Dover…which couldn’t be more convenient if it tried!

Swan Hellenic had a large and very loyal following of passengers who enjoyed the ‘intellectual’ enhancement of these cruises. Well known speakers on a range of subjects would be invited aboard to share knowledge and experiences. The passengers loved this ‘added value’ element. The itineraries were truly creative and varied. Did Swan Hellenic offer too much for too little?

In order to succeed, of course, Sterling, will have to ‘sift the chaff from the corn’ relating to the former operation in order to establish why the one-ship line faltered in the first place? One can only imagine that hard-earned P&O experience will stand the Lord in good stead.

Bottom line…this is great cruising news, and we wish him all the luck in the world! This correspondent feels that the Swan Hellenic brand could well be right up his street…oh yeah, yeah, yeah!!!

A major makeover for her MAJESTY

The bi-monthly ‘CRUISE TRAVEL’ is a more than worthy read for lovers of cruise travel. Find out more on

How many of you receive - or even know of - the American magazine, ‘CRUISE TRAVEL’?

It’s a bi-monthly publication emanating from Illinois, and has been going for many, many years, enjoying a large and loyal following.

There’s always a ‘Ship of the Month’, a ‘Cruise of the Month’, ‘New Ship Review’, ‘Port of the Month’, and so on. A fine read, that I receive by subscription. I love it, and often take it to bed with a slab of chocolate…the one every bit as delicious as the other.

The reason I make mention of the publication is that the latest edition, August 2007, (remember, it comes out every two months), features RCI’s MAJESTY OF THE SEAS, that I sailed on all of eight or nine years ago. I was a guest of Pentravel, a South African travel chain…and Royal Caribbean, of course.

I had been so excited at the prospect I could hardly breathe. Yet, when I finally got aboard I was…just plain disappointed. Perhaps I had been expecting too much? I think I was. Clearly, this kind of mega-liner cruising didn’t flick my hair back.

The colour schemes were bland, the huge restaurant was just a big, very noisy dining room, and the entertainment was sort of crew-in-their-off-hours standard, if you get my drift. I found the whole ambiance surprisingly staid. If this is mega-liner cruising, I said to myself, I’m afraid it ain’t doing it for me!

Also, the gluttony was sickening to observe…four hamburgers on one plate, that sort of thing. It’s an apparent local predilection that, to be fair, is by no means limited to this vessel. Passengers would stay up in their droves for the full midnight spread, and then be seen leaving the dining room with several plates piled high with food…presumably to be devoured en cabin? You felt that if the ship had put on another meal at 3am they’d be back for more? Hon-est-ly!!!

Equally, I found the ports of call generally lack-lustre…Ocho Rios in Jamaica (yuk,1/10)), Labadee private beach in Haiti (6/10), George Town in Grand Cayman (7/10, mainly because it WAS exciting swimming with stingrays on an optional excursion) and Cozumel, Mexico (5/10, because an excursion to Cancun left me hopelessly under whelmed! It’s a row of expensive hotels…hellooo?).

Well, all these many years later, the MAJESTY OF THE SEAS has just undergone a US $39 million rebuilding that “refashions the vessel into a contemporary cruise liner,” according to ‘CRUISE TRAVEL’.

When this RCI vessel entered service in 1992, the 73,941-ton vessel was, with sister MONARCH OF THE SEAS, the world’s largest new cruise liner – eclipsed in size only in size by NCL’s NORWAY, the article states. Can one believe it?

‘The twin ships, along with slightly older near-sister SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS, became the centre of the cruise travelling public’s attention. As the newest of the three, the MAJESTY OF THE SEAS received a truly regal send-off by godmother, Queen Sonja of Norway.

Looking at a picture (below) of the ship, she is just so dated! No balcony cabins, of course, and just rows and rows of miniscule portholes. How archaic can you get…and dating back just 15 years?

The point is how far cruise liners have come since MAJESTY OF THE SEAS was considered the hot ticket! On reflection, that ship had none of the features that lure passengers to the current flavour-of-the-month, the 158,000-ton FREEDOM OF THE SEAS (and now LIBERTY OF THE SEAS too.)

Anyway, RCI has given MAJESTY OF THE SEAS a major internal makeover, and it will undoubtedly continue to be popular with the shorter 3- and 4-day cruises it does to the Bahamas. I’d personally opt for one of the brand new behemoths because they’re just bound to be a whole lot more exciting.

And, indeed, what can we expect from cruise liners 10 years from now? A 500,000-tonner? Oh, hell yes, it’s totally possible! Not necessarily ideal?

The 15-year-old, 73,941-ton MAJESTY OF THE SEAS has undergone major US $39 million inner reconstruction that “refashions the vessel into a contemporary cruise liner,” according to the latest CRUISE TRAVEL magazine.

P&O to reveal Harry’s fate at midnight on 21 July

Young – and some not so young? - passengers aboard P&O’s AURORA and ORIANA will be able to buy ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ at the same moment is goes on sale on land, at exactly midnight on Saturday, 21 July.

Yep, P&O managed to pull off a deal with the publishers, and AURORA and ORIANA will be delivered a shipment of the highly anticipated books (probably by a legion of owls) under strict security just before they sail from Southampton on 20 July. Both ships are sailing to the Mediterranean that day.

How could passengers be deprived of knowing Harry's fate in the final instalment of the best-selling series of books?

Both ships are going all out to promote the event to their passengers. On 20 July, the ships' daily newsletter will be renamed the "Daily Prophet," and familiar Hogwarts characters will be hosting moonlit launch parties in the ships' libraries…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum!

And P&O will be laughing all the way to the bank too…not on book sales, but a guarantee of no empty berths on two “hungry” ships.

I shall go to my grave not understanding this Harry Potter phenomenon? How one desperate woman with a young child sat down to write…and ended up being rich beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. More strength to her!

Today, of course, every opportunist and his dog are out to scavenge on the back of JK Rowling’s “luck”…the odd cruise line notwithstanding. It’s a piranha-piranha world we live in.

I don’t ‘do’ fiction, so I couldn’t give a stuff what happens to Harry Potter! I do, however, wish I could write like Joanna though! She is, plainly and simply, a phenomenon! If all that money’s going to destroy her…she’s welcome to send me the odd billion!

Then I could start my own cruise line!

Carnival is the cruise line of choice for jumpers

Two passengers jumped overboard from two Carnival ships last weekend, killing one and the other receiving only minor injuries.

Both were recovered within minutes of their respective jumps, and the factor making the difference in their recoveries is that they were both witnessed, so each ship could accurately note the location.

The first incident occurred as Carnival's ECSTASY was sailing from Galveston to Cozumel. An 18-year-old boy was seen jumping overboard from one of the upper decks. His body was recovered very quickly, and he was pronounced dead soon after.

The boy, from Houston, was identified later as the victim of a beating he received in a widely covered hate crime last year. He was aboard ECSTASY with friends. Suicide was suspected, and attributed to the trauma he had suffered.

The second incident occurred when a 29-year-old-man jumped overboard from CARNIVAL LIBERTY off Boca Raton, sailing on the first leg of its 6-day cruise, from Port Everglades to Freeport.

Apparently, the man, who was travelling with friends, had ‘been drinking’ before going out on the Promenade Deck and climbing up into a lifeboat which was hanging in its stored position above the deck.

He then tried to cut the cables (oh my goodness gracious me) securing the lifeboat with an axe. A security guard arrived on the scene and ordered the man to come down. With that, the man jumped into the sea, and security immediately notified the ship's command.

The crew threw life rings and life jackets into the sea both for the man to use, if he could reach them, and to mark the spot.

He was found in the water about an hour later, and transported him to Ft Lauderdale where he was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital.

He won’t be charged, according to one report.

The mind seriously boggles! However, with the huge numbers now enjoying cruising, it is inevitable that individuals will do stupid things and, unfortunately, it’s no crime to do something stupid. Carnival does seem to be the line of choice for those who wish to jump off cruise ships? I doubt the ad agency will be interested though? Picture a copy line thus…


I think not!

The joys of cruise operating…!

Celebrity's 90,000-ton MILLENIUM struck a submerged rock while anchored at Villefranche in the Mediterranean last week.

Following an inspection, it was found that three of the four blades on the starboard propeller were damaged, as were two of the four on the port propeller.

From there the mishap logistics began…

Celebrity had to find a way to fly (to somewhere) five 4-ton propeller blades and 16 divers (for around-the-clock work).

They ship limped on to Civitevecchia, the port for Rome, where spare parts (some parts!) and workmen were awaited.

To cut a long story, the ship made it to Naples, but Santorini and Piraeus were replaced with a call at Corfu…thus getting MILLENNIUM back on schedule.

Passengers have received an onboard credit and 50% off the cruise fare they paid.

One of the blades on the port propeller will not have to be replaced as originally thought, according to a report just in. However, Celebrity now has to ship one of the 4-ton blades back to the factory. Fedex? Yeah, right…whatever!

As this was about to be posted, news came through that Celebrity announced that the compensation would now total 100 percent of the cruise fare on MILLENNIUM’s current itinerary.

The company estimates this incident and the compensation will affect Royal Caribbean's earnings by 4-cents per share, amounting to a tab of more than US $8.2 million.

The passengers thought they were disappointed by missing Santorini and Athens? Their disappointment is at present probably well exceeded by Richard Fain's as he ponders missing eight million dollars.

JK Rowlings can keep the billion discussed above…I will now NOT be starting my own cruise company!!!!

Tickets for QE2’s final voyage are snapped up in 36 minutes

Tickets to join the final voyage of the cruise ship QE2, before she is converted into a floating hotel, sold out in just 36 minutes, according to The Times in London.

More than £3 million was spent by passengers who will occupy the 1,800 berths when she leaves Southampton on November 11 next year. Two couples that booked the Grand Suites paid nearly £18,000 per person for the 16-night, one-way trip to Dubai. Berths in the cheapest accommodation, a standard inside cabin, were sold for more than £4,000 each.

John Graves, the curator of ship history at the National Maritime Museum in London, said: “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that tickets sold out so quickly because these great ships are becoming rarer and rarer.”

The QE2, which entered service in 1969, was sold in a £50.5 million deal with Istithmar, the investment division of the Dubai Government.

Cunard, her present owner, has said that a 10-night farewell voyage around Britain will take place in September next year.

This correspondent photographed the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 in Durban harbour shortly before going aboard as a guest on a coastal run to Cape Town about seven years ago. President Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel were aboard (also guests of Cunard, if I recall?…but they occupied a penthouse suite, and I didn’t!) The send-off we got from the people of Durban can only be described as ‘stupendous’. A good 40,000 souls crowded the harbour at various points to wave ta-ta to Madiba and Graca (there were only two to see me off). A barman aboard later said he had “never seen anything like it in all my years on this ship!” That would not be difficult to believe. The piece de resistance, of course, was a ‘lady in white’ standing atop a building near the harbour mouth singing ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ into a megaphone…a gesture reminiscent of the real ‘Lady in White’, Perla Siedle Gibson, who sang Vera Lynn songs to troops departing Durban on warships during World War 2. It was all rather more than lovely and, consequently, the QE2 will always occupy a prominent place in my abundant bank of lifetime memories. However, I’m glad she’s going out of service. It is time!

See you next Wednesday…if the Devil doesn’t hinder, and the creeks don’t rise!

In Johannesburg



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