Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Reviews

Jul 18, 2007
Author: P&S

Welcome aboard,

As ever, my own comments in each item are in red.

The main story this week highlights what happens when things go wrong with a large cruise liner carrying about 2,000 passengers.

Costs apart, the logistics of one cancellation – never mind multiple cancellations - are mind boggling. Several hundred travel agents have to be contacted…and so do their clients. Press releases have to go out, hoping to catch passengers before they head off to the port of embarkation, and so on.

Do check out what Celebrity has had to deal with over the past two weeks or so. If you were a smaller operation, with less resources, this situation would almost certainly signal “curtains” for your operation.

It’s cool whilst things are going swimmingly…BUT…!!!

MILLENNIUM’s woes escalate into a $30 million nightmare!

Last week’s MILLENNIUM dramas around a damaged pod propeller, having initially set the company back eight million dollars, went from bad to worse…highlighting the very real hazards of operating large cruise liners that carry thousands of passengers.

When things go wrong, thousands of passengers have to be “managed”...meaning, communicated with, re-directed, passified and compensated! Thereafter, a huge financial loss for the cruise line will be guaranteed.

According to one report, Celebrity – or presumably parent company Royal Caribbean? - has forked out a cool US$29 million to date…and climbing!

The saga began when MILLENNIUM’s propellers brushed a rock in Mediterranean, damaging the blades. What at first seemed like a routine repair job escalated exponentially as the ship sat at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, resulting in the cancellation of one, then two cruises.

The episode gathered momentum when specialists found that the base of one propeller blade had been jammed into the housing in which it sits, presenting a new problem for the replacement of the blade.

Four-ton parts and specialists were flown in, and they worked around the clock, first encountering one unusual problem after another. Then they decided drydocking was the only way forward.

The cost of this setback was exacerbated by several situations, including the fact that it happened in Europe, that this high-yield sailing bringing high-level compensation…and that is was extremely expensive to get the mostly-American group of passengers home.

Celebrity even chartered planes from Rome to New York for three days, plus paid for onward airfares from there. They couldn't even obtain as many planes as they wanted or needed. Some passengers were accommodated on board, because there simply weren’t enough hotel rooms available.

To top it all, Celebrity refunded total cruise fares in the form of onboard credits and cash/credit card refunds. Depending on the sailing, passengers were getting a 50% or 100% refund. Travel agents kept their commissions, the cruise line ruled.

As this story was posted, MILLENNIUM was still drydocked in Palermo, but Celebrity was upbeat about being in Barcelona in good time for its 24 July sailing, the report stated.

Celebrity is no stranger to cancellations, as the problematic bearings in Celebrity's Millennium-class propulsion system have caused frequent unscheduled drydocks, but the cost on this one will give the financial department headaches until Kingdom Come.

Poor Celebrity, really! It takes quite a lot of cruising to recoup 29 million ‘smackeroos’. Never mind the monstrous inconvenience for passengers, and their own added expenditure. One can’t help but feel for Celebrity. Having a parent like the giant Royal Caribbean Cruise Line does, of course, ensure survival of the species.

With the 90,000-ton MILLENNIUM in dry dock at Palermo, and with plenty of time in hand before the 24 July cruise, Celebrity is considering what other maintenance projects they could schedule while the ship is out of the water.

And, Celebrity has most generously ruled that instead of the future cruise credit of 50% of the cruise fare they paid for the 30 June sailing, passengers will now receive 100 percent. This is in addition to the full refund of their cruise fare on that cruise. One can hear the board members - lying crouched in the foetal position - crying “ooouuuccchhh” in unison? You betcha!…and who can blame them? Thirty million dollars down the drain!

And, can you even imagine the passenger bitching and squealing that goes on? People can be utterly vile in situations like this…so one pities the travel agents…and the poor cruise line too!

Of course, if a cruise line stops being overly generous, then Americans immediately resort to their favourite form of defence…you guessed it…they sue! Look what happened to Cunard when QUEEN MARY 2 damaged one of its pods. The only thing that put paid to it was undue generosity!

Bon Voyage on 24 July, MILLENNIUM, our thoughts and best wishes go with you all.

Hope nobody jumps or falls from a balcony…that’s ALL you need!

Hopefully a warning to others!

On that subject…talk about ship jumpers is escalating. The 18-year-old who took his life recently by going overboard Carnival’s ECSTACY particularly upset his and other communities.

A medical examiner performed an autopsy to determine the cause of the young man’s sad death. He found it to be blunt trauma to the head (sustained by hitting the water) and then drowning (because he wasn't conscious to swim), and he ruled it a suicide.

Going overboard from a cruise liner, according to a US report, “is kind of like going off a high-diving board, and in the jumpers’ minds, clouded by anger or alcohol, they think jumping over the rail is either going to be fun or make a point.

“What they don't seem to realize is that (a) there are no diving boards that high (they are typically falling the equivalent of five or more stories), and (b) that water, unless entered exactly right, is almost as hard as concrete.

“The people who survive it are very lucky. That's what these people don't get. We hope that the hapless young man (we don’t even have a name, he is merely a statistic) who jumped from ECSTACY will at least leave behind a warning to others.

“In recent years, there’s been a rising number of passengers going overboard, almost always with tragic results. In the last few months, however, there have been a significant number of people who survived the fall with only minor injuries, and have been recovered with only minimal time in the water. (The secret is to be spotted going over the side!)

“In many of these cases, alcohol and/or anger has reportedly been a factor,” the report stated.

If you’re pissed off with the world and feel tempted to make a point…book an inner cabin…get someone to strap you to the bunk, and drink only fruit juice. OK? If necessary, book your shrink into a next-door cabin.

Or jump! Hey, it’s the one last personal choice we can make! But at least have the courtesy to do it at about 3am, when there is little chance of your being spotted.

A cruise legend to bow out

Bob Dickinson - Carnival Cruise Lines' president and CEO – will retire, aged 65, at the end of the year.

He came to Carnival in 1972, just as Carnival's first ship was entering service. During his tenure, the industry has seen phenomenal growth and maturation, and Dickinson has personally been responsible for a major portion of it.

"Bob has truly achieved legendary status in the travel industry," said Carnival Corp chairman Micky Arison. "There is simply no other travel industry executive who is as well known and respected as he is."

"I have been blessed to have a long, fun-filled career helping to build Carnival and the cruise industry," said Dickinson. "I'm still having fun, so giving all of that up has been a very difficult decision, but I'll be 65 next month and have been pondering this with my family for some time."

Bob Dickinson will remain on Carnival's board of directors.

Meanwhile, do check out Carnival’s latest hi-tech website…
Phwoarrr!!!…Carnival has obviously put a lot of money behind this…that Flash presentation is a “wow”. This is quite a unique and expensive marketing effort on Carnival's part.

The site appears to be aimed at those who have never cruised, so it's going to be interesting to see how many of those visitors it attracts? N.B. It can be a very slow load, depending on the time of the day! (get broadband - editor) But it’s quite an experience and a lot of fun. It’s certainly a testament to the brilliance of modern-day communication.

Book now…they will easily sell out!

Cunard’s QUEEN MARY 2 and QUEEN VICTORIA will be operating simultaneous world cruises in 2009.

With the QE2 out of the equation, Cunard will have no other short winter escapes to warm destinations to offer their customers, as they usually do. What Cunard will have to offer their customers are some fabulous 90-day itineraries and some shorter segments (40 or more days) to some of the world's most fascinating places.

A close friend – now late – once did a full QE2 world cruise. By the time he got to Durban, (where I was living) after more than two months aboard, he’d “had a skinfull of world cruising”. In fact, he said, the thought of going on to Southampton from Cape Town was about more than he could bear. But, he told me, he’d “tough it out” to at least be able to say he had completed the circumnavigation.

Other people I spoke to aboard in Durban that day – you could visit ships in those days – indicated that “about 40 days max” was enough on a world cruise. Thereafter, it’s just too much of the ‘same old, same old’. Cruise segments are perhaps the ideal way to enjoy any ship! Going around the world is only for diehard aficionados……….like me!!!

QUEEN VICTORIA – by then a year old and completely ship-shape - will start her 99-day voyage in New York on 10 January (2009) and end in Southampton on 20 April, travelling westward around the world, visiting 37 ports, 18 of them being maiden calls.

QUEEN MARY 2 will start her world cruise in Ft. Lauderdale on 13 January. QUEEN VICTORIA will be there for a ‘Royal Rendezvous’ to see her off. Altogether QM2 will visit 26 ports on five continents.

With the strength of the market and the renown of the ships, they will easily sell out. Since Cunard will have all their eggs in the world cruise basket, perhaps its time for Carnival to announce another newbuild for Cunard?

Indeed! What would they call it? THE QUEEN MOTHER? (I think not!) Another QUEEN ELIZABETH? (without the 2…it’s a distinct possibility.) PRINCE CHARLES? (Nuh-uh!) PRINCESS ROYAL? (It’s a name I’m surprised the Princess brand hasn’t used…p’haps Anne has put the spoke in herself?) Don’t hold your breath for a Cunard ship called ZARA PHILLIPS or SOPHIE WESSEX either…dear God, how vulgar!


Seriously, my choice would be QUEEN ELIZABETH, to honour the Queen Mother, and Cunard’s previous legendary liner, the penultimate voyage of which it was privileged to savour in 1968.

Oh well, let’s see if Carnival comes up with a newbuild first! It will…oh yes it will!

Coo-ee, Mr Dickinson?…isn’t this the one last splash you can make before you go off to your ‘Shady Pines’? Give us a great big Cunard ocean liner to leave us fainting in awe! C’mon Bob, here’s your last chance to knock the world out with a 500,000-tonner!…to make RCI’s 220,000-ton ‘Project Genesis’ look like a rowing boat!

That’s enough, before I O/D on my rabid ship fantasies. Until next Wednesday, then…

In Johannesburg



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