Vernon Buxton's weekly cruise news & views

Jul 4, 2007
Author: Vernon Buxton

Welcome aboard,

As usual, my own thoughts are in red.

How big will be too big?

As we well know, cruise liners are getting bigger n’ bigger.

By the end of this year, some 27 ships over 100,000 tons will be in service…fuelled by the increase in demand for high-value cruise holidays with more facilities and options.

In May 2006, Royal Caribbean International’s FREEDOM OF THE SEAS debuted. Measuring 158,000 tons and accommodating up to 4,370 holidaymakers, it is presently (along with its recently introduced sister LIBERTY OF THE SEAS) the world’s biggest cruise ship – bigger even than the ocean liner QUEEN MARY 2 (148,528 tons).

But, in 2009 a new “largest cruise ship in the world” will arrive. At 220, 000 tons and carrying up to 6,400 passengers, RCI’s ‘Project Genesis’ “promises to be “innovative and exciting,” according to Douglas Ward, publisher of the Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2007.

“Being aboard such a floating leisure playground can be like being in a large shopping mall. But imagine the wait for an elevator?” writes Ward. Tell me about it…!

Or, what if 6,400 passengers all want an omelette (what’s the problem?…that would only take 12,800 eggs!) or room service at the same time? (Well, then you’ll need 6,400 waiters, won’t you?)

Or if they all went to the same beach? (Perish the thought, the couple of thousand I tried to enjoy Labadee beach with on north Haiti island was quite enough, thank you. Imagine queuing for a beach barbecue with 6,000 others?

“Disembarkation could also be like getting out of a baseball stadium during the World Series,” says Ward. “Also, following a fire aboard STAR PRINCESS in 2006, much thinking has gone into dealing with the possibility of serious onboard fires and the mass evacuation and repatriation of vacationers.” (The day a 6,400-passenger ship sinks will be the biggest news story since TITANIC went down in 1912, make no mistake about that.)

“One problem will be accessing ports with the infrastructure that can support these gargantuan floating resorts. How many ports CAN accommodate such large, deep-draft vessels?” he writes.

Frankly, I don’t see how you can experience the ‘personal touch’ on a 220,000-ton ship? Surely you’re going to be processed, and be on the receiving end of a very sanitised experience? I’d love to be proved wrong.

“Size,” according to Ward, “also means that ships can include more spaces for “privacy” – which means exclusive areas available to those willing to pay extra. Now you can have your own private box in the show lounge (Royal Court Theatre, QUEEN VICTORIA), book a spa suite with all its extra perks (COSTA SERENA), or a villa with private garden (NORWEGIAN JEWEL).

In other words, two-class cruising (in some cases, three-class cruising) is back. In the future, exclusivity may mean having your own private sunbathing space, private tailor-made excursions and more…all at a price, of course.

“But you’ll still have to mix with the masses when you go through security,” he says.

So, folks, ‘Project Genesis’ will indeed be revealing as a mass-market means of cruising. From a technical point of view, I would very much love to board this vessel one day to personally experience its dimensions and facilities. I’d want to see exactly how a cruise line processes 6,400 passengers. You picture long queues for meals, long delays if one is being tendered from ship to shore. Disembarking could well be a pain.

Will a passenger find this frenetic environment totally stimulating and appealing? Is it only for the young, or would baby-boomers enjoy the hurly burly of it all too?

Indeed, we watch ‘Project Genesis’ come alive with great interest…

…at which point Carnival will undoubtedly hit back with a 250,000 or 300,000…even a 500,000-ton monster?

How about a Cunard 500,000-ton trans-Atlantic liner? That makes sense to me…perhaps with a few decks of apartments, like THE WORLD of Residensea? A golf course?…aaah, fergeddit…my imagination is running away with me!

Let’s get straight on to other real cruise happenings then, shall we…

COSTA MARINA to homeport in Mauritius

Only weeks ago I wrote that the day was coming when a cruise line would see the potential in the Indian Ocean islands. I envisaged the homeport being either Cape Town or Mombasa, but Costa has come up with a very different idea…and I predict it is the start of a whole new set of developments in these waters.

Costa will be basing its 25,441-ton COSTA MARINA at Mauritius this December for an itinerary that's totally off-the-beaten-track.

Included are all the ports that until now have seldom seen cruise ships. The 14-day itinerary includes two-day calls at Mauritius and Mahe (in the Seychelles), and calls at Mombasa (Kenya), Mayotte, Nosy Be and Toamasina (in Madagascar) and Reunion.

The first sailing will be on December 22 this year, and then every other Saturday through March 1 (2008). Prices start at US $1879 per person.

There will be two 27-day repositioning cruises. The eastbound one leaves Savona on November 26 with calls in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, the Seychelles, Kenya, Mayotte and Madagascar. The reverse itinerary sails on March 14.

The Mauritius programme is aimed at the European and Asian markets, where the Indian Ocean island is still a good distance away, but is surely aimed at the North American market too. Ain’t holdin’ my breath about this?

The 25,441-ton COSTA MARINA takes 700 passengers. The angular-looking vessel was converted from a container vessel in 1990, and underwent considerable refurbishment in 2002.

Of this vessel, Douglas Ward’s Berlitz Cruise Guide states: “The fit and finish of this vessel, when it debuted as a cruise ship, were well below standards. There is a very limited amount of open deck and sunbathing space, and no observation lounge with forward-facing views. The swimming pool is very small. There are simply too many interior (no view) cabins. The library is really poor.”

Hmmnn?…well…yes…er…um…which sounds a bit dicey, what? Why put people off from the beginning? Knock em’ out with a beautiful ship, for heaven’s sake. Word-of-mouth is everything in new ventures.

I mentioned this to Clifford Foggitt of Starlight Cruises here in Johannesburg. Yep, he knew about the COSTA MARINA.

“They actually came to see us,” he told me. “They're aiming at the Europe market. Last thing in the world we would want is to try and find 1,200 pax every fortnight out of an offshore port.”

Actually, the Berlitz Cruise Guide puts the passenger complement at 700 lower berths (1,005 max), but even that’s a lot of bodies to find every two weeks, bearing in mind that they have to get out to Mauritius, which is not all that well served by international flights. It’s a long-haul destination from Europe, and the prices are not likely to attract South Africans in any great numbers. After all, we’ve got MSC’s MELODY home-ported in Durban for the coming summer.

Anyway, we watch with interest, don’t we, folks? Great itinerary, no question about it…and this is a truly ground-breaking (or should one say water-breaking?) development in this neck of the woods.

We wish Costa all the luck!

An ODYSSEY for Seabourn

The name of the first of two new builds for Seabourn has been announced. It will be the SEABOURN ODYSSEY. The ship will debut in 2009, and demand is already so high that Seabourn is accepting $1000 deposits to be on the list for reservations in the 2009/2010 season ($2000 if you want to be on the first voyage.)


How about SEABOURN SOUL for the next one, dudes? C’mon, it sings, and it evokes emotion! Oh well…I tried!

Cruise ships could berth at dome for Olympics

The owners of the Millennium Dome, which re-opened to the public last week, are drawing up plans to build a cruise ship terminal alongside the site to attract more visitors, according to The Sunday Times in London.

The ambitious scheme could see a fleet of cruise liners arriving at the Greenwich peninsula in southeast London in time for the 2012 Olympics. The dome, now re-branded The O2, will host gymnastics and basketball at the Games.

If the plan goes ahead, it will act as a catalyst for £350m of additional investment at the dome site, including the creation of hotel and conference facilities.

I had no idea the Thames was deep enough to accommodate very large ships? A 100,000-tonner would have quite a deep draft, so this is indeed an interesting eventuality. What a view for folk on shore along the length of the Thames as a modern leviathans ply the river? There will be much ooh-ing and aah-ing going on!

Here comes the bride…dear God, spare us!

NCL America passengers are being invited to attend – on all three ships - a "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," the unusual off-Broadway play where the audience comes to be part of the production as they
attend the "wedding" as invited guests.

The line holds the event in one of the ship's larger lounges. (It is limited to 250 to 350 passengers, depending on the ship.) Guests are welcomed as family and friends, and eat, drink and dance as they would at any Italian wedding…celebrating the nuptials of the Vitale and Nunzio families.

A family-style dinner is served, and like many weddings, there is a "cash bar." Unexpected twists and turns provide the humour and drama of the evening. (Just like most weddings.)

NCL refers to this as a "ship excursion," so it may be booked through the NCL website or at the Shore Excursion desk onboard. The price is $24.95 per person, including dinner.

The production has been tested successfully for more than month on PRIDE OF ALOHA, and it has just been rolled out on PRIDE OF AMERICA and PRIDE OF HAWAI’I.

NCL president Colin Veitch reckons guests love the idea. “They come to the 'wedding' ready to have a good time and the show delivers," he said.

The show is presented on each ship the night that it overnights at Maui, and the production involves 25 professional actors who are based on Maui.

Well, if this gets 10 out of 10 for “innovative”…in my book it gets 20 out of 10 for being cheesy too! It IS a different idea, that much I must concede. But how pointless…to pretend that a couple is hooking up to walk into an MGM sunset to live happily ever after? Nuh-uh, the idea doesn’t do it for this correspondent…and I would avoid such an activity in my droves!

Oh no…not again!

Passengers are falling off ships like it’s going out of fashion?

A 27-year-old man went overboard from a balcony on CARNIVAL VALOR last week, as the ship was on its way back to Miami, its homeport.

This, after a 24-year-old man has not been found after he went missing from Royal Caribbean’s 158,000-ton FREEDOM OF THE SEAS the previous week. This time, however, the story has a happy ending.

About 8pm, when the 110,239-ton ship was just hours away from the end of the cruise, passengers saw the man going overboard from the balcony of his stateroom and immediately reported it.

CARNIVAL VALOR initiated its “man overboard” procedure, slowing and turning around so that it could come back to almost the exact spot. The man treading water was quickly spotted from the bridge, and was rescued, and later treated for minor injuries.

Take note, it’s a hazard relating to this oh-so coveted feature…the balcony cabin! Yep, you sit on the outer railing imbibing libations and you’re asking for trouble. One false move, and the next thing you’re doing a “Greg Louganis” into the sea…or, more likely, a classic “Humpty Dumpty” plop into the surging waters! Cruise lines may have to issue stronger warnings about the potentially lethal mix of “cocktails and cabins with balconies”?

If you happen to see a yacht…!

Last week CROWN PRINCESS was heading to New York when the Coast Guard reported a distress signal not too far from the 116,000-ton vessel.

True enough, they spotted an orange smoke flare from the vessel, and it turned out a small 6-metre yacht. A 60-year-old man had been
sailing from Key West to Rhode Island by himself, and here he was… about 300 kilometres off the Virginia coast.

Having been brought aboard the behemoth, the yachtsman told of how his engine had died and that he had been adrift for several days, and was running low on fresh water. Even worse, he had floated into the Gulf Stream, which was running about two and a half knots, and he was quickly being carried farther out to sea.

By now the yacht could well be on its way to Europe without him. Goodness gracious me, the things some people will do to get a free cruise on the CROWN PRINCESS!!! Enjoyed the happy ending, anyway.

I’ll be seeing you…next Wednesday,

in Johannesburg



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