Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

Aug 14, 2007
Author: P&S

Hi, and welcome aboard again.
My own added comments are in red.

Aesthetic succour for the armchair traveller!

Holland America Line has published a book that highlights the exquisite art collections aboard its 13 ships.

The cruise company’s eclectic collection includes everything from life-size bronze wildlife sculptures to pre-Columbian artefacts…and even a saxophone autographed by Bill Clinton.

The book was photographed by well-known cruise photographer Michel Verdue, and the text was penned by popular travel journalists Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman. Lasley and Harryman also are the voices behind Holland America's self-guided audio tours of the art
aboard each ship.

"The Art of Cruising: Fine Art and Antiques of Holland America Line" will be available fleetwide on HAL ships. The 176-page full-colour hardcover book is also available on the line's website at at a cost of $45… which is considerably less than the cost of a cruise.

Your correspondent cruised up the South African coast on ROTTERDAM VI some years ago. The dining table I was allocated to was occupied by a group of Texan friends travelling together. They welcomed me into the fold warmly, as Texans are wont to do. The three couples had many questions for this South African “stranger”, who came from another planet as far as they were concerned…and the vice was entirely versa, trust me!

The ROTTERDAM VI was on a world cruise. “How many world cruises have you done?” a Lyndon Johnson look-alike asked me.

How “many”, mark you! Oh, yeah, right, I thought to myself…should I lie and tell him it’s my tenth? “Absolutely none,” I replied honestly, “and nor am I likely to ever do even one.”

“Oh?…and why naaaht?” he drawled with a look of disappointed surprise, adding: “Mah wife Dor’thy and I arre on our seventh worrld crruise!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was on a three-night freebie, as a guest of Holland America…and that was about all I could have afforded anyway, never mind a 105-night circumnavigation. Dear, dear, the things we have to say to uphold our dignity!

Anyway, as I discovered on my explorations the next day, the art on ROTTERDAM VI was indeed very impressive. In some public rooms you see these vast murals, depicting historic sea battles, some which fill an entire wall. Art is certainly an extremely appealing aspect of Holland America’s decorative ambiance.

I found the rest of the experience rather bland, stodgy and staid…but one has to take into account that world cruises are generally peopled by those who’ve had a good life and are now happily in line for a one-on-one with their Maker. What nicer place to pop your clogs than on a cruise liner?…I thought to myself. They could just throw me to the fishes! Dead hacks can’t cry!

On the ROTTERDAM VI there is an exclusive by-invitation-only dining room reserved for high-end guests. It contains the largest, most expansive semi-oval dining table you have ever clapped eyes on. It seats about 40 guests, and those placed opposite are too far away to engage in conversation. So, you are essentially stuck with those on each side of you.

As a-then representative for Sure Travel, I was invited “to dine with the captain” in the said private enclave. On my right was a former mayor of Milkwaukee (of Jeffrey Dahmer notoriety), and to the left was his wife…world cruisers, naturally. She was terribly sweet, and insisted on my postal address so that she could “stay in touch!” I really preferred for us to remain ‘ships that pass in the night!’ in that swanky eating den.

Seated to the north, south, east and west of this vast timbered masterpiece (uber-elegantly clothed for the occasion, of course) was the captain and three of his senior officers, attired in their Sunday Best, naturally! I was not carrying black tie, but my three-piece dark suit was smart enough, I felt.

Tucked away somewhere in between were Sure Travel’s head honcho, Will Puk, with his delightful wife, Sue, and Jason Rohde, of CruiseMasters, who had organised the ‘fam trip’ for the three of us.

Dinner was an utterly spectacular 8-course extravaganza, each dish presented along with a full verbal description - delivered most eloquently by the head chef, no less - of its culinary source and excellence. The meal was a pot pourri of international flavours, truly exquisite in its choice and cultural nuances. A different wine was proffered with each course, ranging from dry to semi-sweet to very sweet.

A pair of violins “chee-cheed” away unobtrusively in the background. All rather wah-wah, you know!

Oh, My God! You’ve no idea how I longed to rush out on deck for a keen whiff of the salt in the clean air. It was all so uptight, and stuffy in there! I felt I was being strangled by the formality. It was actually the fault of The Table, which was just too big for a cross-exchange of conversation. I mean, how stupid is that?

So, I was stuck with the somewhat overbearing opinions of the Milwaukee mayor in one ear, and the cutie-pie ramblings of his mayoress in the other. Mr mayor finally leant over towards me and with a very sour, ‘winey’ breath, drawled into my face: “This is the best naaht of maah laaf on en-neh boat!”

Boat? Boat? The ROTTERDAM VI…a boat? Dear Heaven…these vulgar Americans, I thought!

In reality, it was a very smart evening indeed. These captain’s special dinners, I was told, are unique to HAL, and are coveted among the well heeled who pay big bucks to be ensconced in a cabin category that qualifies one for such exclusive indulgence…

……………….along with the odd travel “VIP” like me, of course!!!

Spa cabins are all the rage!

Listen up, dear reader! Balcony cabins were the “in thaing”. Past tense! Now verandah (which are significantly more expansive than balconies, because they’d have to house lounge chairs)…verandah cabins attached to a Spa Centre have come into vogue with a vengeance! Gosh…can we keep up with the cruise industry?

So yes, people, there ain’t likely to be no megaliner newbuild henceforth that doesn’t have a Spa centre, each becoming more extravagant than the one before. Perhaps two or three full decks of special cabins, enhanced by butler and concierge services? Picture vast heated His and Her private pools awash with nekkid maidens or chunky hunks lazing away the sea days…all being gently massaged with exotic oils and seductive ungents? What a con…but never mind!

Costa has discovered it’s onto something! Yes, the Spa cabins are being routinely booked up months before sailing.

Costa is the only line with spa cabins in operation on two ships, but two more lines - MSC and Carnival - have no plans to be left out, and have included similar accommodations in plans for ships under construction.

Costa too, is now planning to retrofit the 2003-built COSTA MEDITERRANEA with 44 Spa cabins. There will be a selection of ocean view, balcony and suite categories. Bookings will include three complimentary spa treatments, two fitness or meditation classes and access to the Wellness Restaurant. The cabins will feature aromatherapy diffusers, special shower and air filters, and a mini bar stocked with healthy food and beverage selections. Chocolate, tequila, valium and Viagra, one hopes?

Costa says that the spa accommodations have typically been the first to sell out on each sailing, and it's generally necessary to book at least six months in advance to assure some availability. Travel agents…you are duly advised!

They are particularly hot properties among honeymooners and girlfriend getaway customers (After all, bathrobes slip off so easily, don’t they?)

Costa currently has spa accommodations on COSTA CONCORDIA
and COSTA SERENA. They will soon be available on COSTA MEDITERRANEA (April 2008), COSTA LUMINOSA (2009) and COSTA PACIFICA (2009). They will make their North American debut on COSTA MEDITERRANEA when the ship arrives for its winter Caribbean season in December 2008.

I daresay the massage services are destined to become “highly creative” too…bringing a glint in the eye to many a “dry arrangement” aboard. And why the hell not? Oh puh-leez, it could turn YOU into a first-time cruiser! Hypocrite!

Carnival’s ‘Caribbean beach feeling!’

Carnival is pursuing its 250 million dollar programme to upgrade the outdoor facilities on its eight Fantasy-class ships.

Three main projects outdoors will give the areas an overall ambiance of a “Caribbean beach feeling.”

The main mid-ship pool on the Lido Deck will be tiled in blue with yellow accents, and there will be tall, faux palm trees and thatched roofs to add to the ‘beachy’ feel, and shaded seating around the edges of the ‘beach’. The outdoor bars will get new, more spacious looks.

The aft part of Veranda Deck will become "Carnival WaterWorks."…given over to an expansive spray park with water squirting from various devices…sure to be a hit with the kids,

The centrepiece of the WaterWorks is going to be a four-deck-high, 100-metre spiralling tube water slide…"the biggest, longest, and most elaborate in cruises," Carnival says.

There will also be a separate 30-metre-long triple-lane water slide for your sliding pleasure.

The grown-ups can escape to the third outdoor venue, the Serenity Deck, a quiet outdoor area for adults only.

Staterooms on Fantasy-class ships are already being remodelled, with new features such as flat-screen televisions and upgraded bathrooms.

New atrium lobby bars are being installed, along with new state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment in lounges and clubs. The remodelled ships will also have coffee bars, nine-hole miniature golf courses, New York-style delis in the Lido restaurants and completely remade children's facilities.

The complete programme will be installed on all eight ships by the end of 2009. The first two that will have all of the facilities will be CARNIVAL INSPIRATION and CARNIVAL IMAGINATION, planned to be completed on both ships by the end of 2007.

Wot, no Spa Centres? C’mon Carnival, what you’re doing is just so passé!!! On-ly joking!

Gee whiz…if I had the money – which I don’t – I would be booking to savour a Costa ‘Spa’ ship, then I’d want to see for myself how MSC compares? Then I’d definitely have a Carnival Fantasy-class experience for the WaterWorks fun, followed by a Royal Caribbean LIBERTY OF THE SEAS cruise to be able to judge the difference.

By which time, the QUEEN VICTORIA will be awaiting my approval, followed by the QUEEN MARY 2 for a well-earned world cruise.

And then he woke up…!

The end of an era…sloppy is in!

Norwegian Cruise Line is now allowing jeans in the dining room for dinner. After all, as NCL says, you've been dressing yourself for years, so you can make appropriate choices on the ship. Oh really?

Older cruisers are openly disgusted by this development, which has been coming for a while.

Actually, most cruise lines allow jeans these days, as long as they are clean and smart, and not full of holes, which youngsters do on purpose. And, of course, no jeans will be allowed on formal nights. (In NCL's case, formal night isn't an issue, because they don't have formal nights.)

America is changing. Americans still want to cruise, but many - if not most - want a more casual environment. Remember that cruise lines set policies based on what they actually hear their customers saying they want.

When I was a kid, passengers truly loved dressing for dinner. To enter a Union-Castle dining room, for instance, was to confront a crowd of proud, smart, and disciplined people. The ladies invariably wore long dresses, which were elegant and feminine. No man would appear without a jacket and tie. These were set standards. Nobody ever questioned them. It was a handsome scene.

It could be said that the world is in the mess it is in today because set standards have not been maintained. People are more sloppy and undisciplined…in many spheres of their lives. This could turn into a debate that would continue into the early hours.

For the record, jeans are OK for passengers on Carnival, Costa, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea, whilst they are not allowed on Cunard, MSC and Celebrity…and good on them too! I’d be mortified the day Cunard, particularly, sinks to such vulgar depths! Cunard is no longer British as it is, without adding any further erosion of traditional standards. Call me old fashioned…I don’t care!

I’m glad I have my memories of better times! So, you wear your tacky bloody jeans…and I hope the dining waiter serves you cold baked beans straight from the tin. Then you’d bitch quick enough…wouldn’t you?

You’ve heard the saying: “Eat to please yourself, but dress to please others!”

I rest my case!

Captain Bill remembers becoming a member of the ‘Crane Club’.

A welcome e-mail was received last week from Captain Bill Shewell in Cape Town, a retired pilot boat skipper (and recently retired Harbourmaster at Cape Town's V&A Harbour – editor).

Bill, who guided ships in and out of Durban harbour between 1968 and 1984, wrote…

“Hi Vernon,
“Many thanks for your amusing and informative articles on our industry. Coming from you, good Sir, that’s a compliment…thank you.

“As a Pilot of 16 years in Durban, I was startled one day after a night shift, and whilst driving the kids to school, to see a ‘Natal Mercury’ posters...RUNAWAY SHIP HITS CRANE on every lamp post in the city.

“My blood went cold, as the previous afternoon in a pretty stiff south-westerly buster – and impatient to wait for another steam tug to get up to Sandock – I decided that this rather forlorn Greek bulker could cope with just one tug instead of the usual two.

“We cast off and away we went, right into the teeth of an ever increasing buster gusting straight across the Maydon Wharf channel.

“I immediately realised the bow was hopelessly out of control. Added to which, our accompanying steam tug started blowing frantic whistle signals about a broken head wire.

“A screaming Greek Captain ordered the mate forward to drop the anchor and tighten the windlass…while I watched somewhat helpless as the bow headed straight for two wooden French trawlers secured at their berths.

“Miraculously, we missed the wooden fishing boats, but the bow stem collected the wharf crane as we swung to starboard against the weight of the anchor…sliding the crane on its wheels all the way to the end of the berth, jamming it against a Maydon Wharf bollard.

“Afterwards, the port captain’s carefully chosen words summed the incident up thus…(a) The captain should have told me that the ship was in a very light condition, (b) Don’t try stupid tricks again in a south-westerly buster and (c) “Congratulations Bill, you are now in the ‘Crane Club’, but only as a ‘committee member’…I remain as chairman for tipping a crane into the harbour, and pilot Buffart remains an ordinary member for only touching the crane.”

Lovely yarn, Bill, and if that’s the worst that happened to you over a 16-year period as pilot captain, you obviously did a pret-ty good job for such a potentially hazardous occupation.

When I lived in Durban, I’d sometimes cadge a ride on those pilot boats, enjoying biting into the waves as we went out to meet an incoming freighter. On a few occasions I partook of a very acceptable meal below too, which gave me the feeling that you guys didn’t have it at all bad.

What a wonderful career. I envy you…truth be known.

Captain Bill also had a few words in response to my mention of BLACK WATCH last week.

“Regrettably, the BLACK WATCH, and others of latest design, have shell platings akin to sardine tins but, to their credit, excellent bow thrusters and twin stern propellers. Of course, many of today’s pilots handle these massive ‘Ladies of the Seas’ with great aplomb…tugs being an ‘invoice additive’ for the bottom line of National Port Authority.” Ouch…you wouldn’t have said that if you were still working, would you now?

The BLACK WATCH was built in 1972, Bill, so I’m not sure it would have “sardine tin” platings? I’m certain it’s the newer vessels you are alluding to.

“Cheers, look forward to next week’s drama tales.
Captain Bill Shewell (Retired)

I wrote back to Bill…

Good to hear from you. Will be delighted to use the story on Wednesday.

Hope you are enjoying your retirement, and you will obviously be as interested as I am in the changing face of cruising.

Oh, for the days of Union-Castle, hey? You've no idea how I miss them! I bet you guided the WINDSOR CASTLE, EDINBURGH CASTLE or the SA VAAL in and out of Durban on many an occasion?

I was invariably down at the harbour mouth at 5pm on Wednesdays to see that week’s mailboat leaving for an overnight to East London. What a great sight as the familiar lavender-coloured hulls eased out over ‘the bar’.

I sailed from Durban to Southampton on the SA VAAL (the former TRANSVAAL CASTLE, of course, which was all-white in its Safmarine livery) in 1966. The voyage took 18 wonderful days.

And, I was the ‘Natal Mercury’ reporter present on that sad, sad day in 1976 when the last of the ‘Castles’, WINDSOR CASTLE left Durban forever. It was the end of an era too. Writing this fills me with nostalgia. It was the bloody Boeing 707 wot did it!

All good wishes to you, and thanks again for the e-mail.

More ‘drama tales’, as Bill calls them, next week, then…

in Johannesburg



Click to go back

  - Contact Us

  - Home