Vernon Buxton's Cruise News & Views

Aug 8, 2007
Author: P&S

Hi and welcome aboard again,

My added comments are in red.

Passenger checks will multiply as security is increased, according to The Times in London

Fifty-three separate pieces of information on travellers to and from Britain could be provided to the Government in a £1.2 billion drive to improve security at ports and airports, it was disclosed last week.

The Times reported that airlines and ships will have to provide nine basic details about travellers, including their name, sex, date of birth, nationality, type of travel document and the issuing state. But if airlines and ships have more information about their passengers, the Government wants them to hand it over so that it can be cross-checked against lists of criminals and suspects created by the security services, immigration service and police.

The Government wants carriers to hand over the date on which a travel reservation was made, the intended date of travel, the passenger’s address and contact telephone numbers including the travel agent and hotel.

The details even include baggage tag numbers issued at check-in, all changes made to a flight reservation, whether a person is travelling first, club or economy class, and the time that a passenger checked in. The huge increase in the amount of information required was disclosed as the Home Office announced that £1.2 billion was to be spent over the next decade in developing an electronic borders programme, stated The Times.

Nice! But if that’s what it takes…then so be it!

Seven BLACK WATCH passengers admitted to hospital

Elderly holidaymakers – who’d paid up to 8,000 pounds - were being treated in a Swedish hospital last week after it was feared that they had caught legionnaires’ disease on their luxury cruise, according to The Times in London.

The seven passengers, all in their 70s and 80s, were admitted to hospital after falling ill with ‘pneumonia-like symptoms’ on Fred.Olsen’s BLACK WATCH. The condition of all of them was said to be stable.

The BLACK WATCH returned to the port of Dover instead of continuing her voyage to Lapland.

Wendy Hooper-Greenhill, a spokeswoman for Fred.Olsen, said that the vessel had undergone a “deep-cleansing regime” to ensure that any infection aboard was killed. “If there is something lurking there, that will certainly knock it on the head,” she said. The ship’s pools and whirlpool spas were closed as a precaution, she said, on the advice of Swedish health authorities.

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that usually affects middle-aged or elderly people. The symptoms are similar to those of flu, and include feeling feverish, muscle pain, headaches and a cough. It can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Critics have said that Fred.Olsen’s brisk 12-hour turnaround puts passengers at risk by not giving enough time to disinfect the ship, but the company insists that it leaves sufficient time for a thorough cleaning, according to The Times.

Fred.Olsen’s 28,613-ton BLACK WATCH is the latest cruise ship to fall victim to onboard “bugs”. It’s a growing problem in the cruise business, and not one that’s easy to “cure”. Acquired by Fred.Olsen in 1996, the former ROYAL VIKING STAR has proved to be a very popular addition to the fleet, with some of her itineraries sold out a year in advance. Your correspondent captured the attractive classic cruise liner entering Durban harbour some years ago, just before she underwent a complete makeover, inside and out, including the installation of new engines.

CARNIVAL VICTORY hits the curb

While docking in New York last week, CARNIVAL VICTORY did the maritime equivalent of scraping the curb as it was berthing.

The ship's bow came into contact with an overhang on the pier, and one media outlet said there was a metre-long crease in the bow. There were no injuries to any passengers or crewmembers.

A comprehensive investigation was underway, a report stated.

The captain had better have a very good excuse. There is just too much to lose for ANYTHING to go wrong on a modern cruise liner.

A last word on MILLENNIUM

Okay, so regular readers know that Celebrity’s MILLENNIUM hit a rock in the Mediterranean…one of the propellers got damaged, the vessel ended up dry-docked in Palermo…and that sending thousands of passengers back to America from two cancelled cruises added up to a total bill of nearly 30 million dollars for parent company, Royal Caribbean.

Well, as it turns out, like most things in this modern world, it was a software problem. "A software glitch sent an unintended signal to the port propulsion system that caused the ship to go in reverse," according to a Celebrity spokesperson

"Prior to the dry dock we implemented procedures to prevent this from happening again on MILLENNIUM or any of our other Millennium-class ships," he continued.

Oh, My God…one lil’ ole ‘puter signal goes wrong and the next thing you’re 30 million down the tubes? The mind solidifies!

A BALMORAL not reserved for the Queen

Orient Lines’ 32,000-ton CROWN ODYSSEY before she became NCL’s NORWEGIAN CROWN. She is soon to be lengthened, refurbished and relaunched as Fred.Olsen’s BALMORAL.

NCL’s already-sold NORWEGIAN CROWN will soon go into dry-dock for a makeover that will result in Fred.Olsen’s latest addition to the fleet…the BALMORAL.

Besides a full refurbishment in FOCL’s ‘country house’ colours, the ship is actually being lengthened to provide extra cabins and public rooms.

It always amazes me how these ships can be cut in half, and then a section is added, and when it’s all done the ship settles back in the water as close to the Plimsoll Line as it was before. There is clearly some flawless arithmetic equation that ensures any ship will float at a level where it was designed to float. One-plus-one makes five…if you know how to work it right!

Anyway, BALMORAL will debut in January on a range of itineraries from Dover appealing mainly to the Brit market, and her success is pretty-well assured. “Bookings far in advance will be absolutely essential,” says Cape Town-based Stewart Venn, the owner’s representative in southern Africa.

BALMORAL will be just about the ideal cruise liner. At 32,000-tons (one assumes she’ll go up to about 40,000?) she’s the right size for an intimate cruise experience, without one feeling as though you are lost in a crowd, which is the biggest turn-off with mega-liner cruising.

She enjoys an excellent passenger flow in the public areas…a pleasant casino for’ard adjoins a piano bar, leading to a lounge, restaurant, out to an open deck, and so on.

CROWN ODYSSEY’s famous observation lounge…a place where music was served up at various times of the day…either as an accompaniment to lunchtime or evening pre-dinner drinks, or the resident band would also encourage late afternoon dance sessions in the centre of this wide semi-rotunda.

I believe the observation lounge topside is the one feature that all cruise lines should emulate. It is a place to sit in absolute comfort, watching harbour scenes, or sea vistas sweeping by. It’s a splendid spot for morning or afternoon tea, and a comfy place to sit back with some literature of choice. Conversation with fellow passengers is easy and natural in such a convivial enclave.

I’d go so far as to say that this feature will be one of the main reasons passengers would become BALMORAL repeaters. There’s somewhere attractive to sit during their voyage. The FOCL personal treatment will clinch the deal.

A front view of BALMORAL-to-be, showing the observation lounge that is so popular with passengers. This correspondent sailed up the South African coast on her the same day. I was allocated a wonderful cabin with a large window, and I thoroughly enjoyed the flow of public rooms…the two restaurants and abundant deck space.

That having been said, when NCL took the vessel over from Orient Lines, it did ‘an alteration’ to the superstructure for’ard of the observation lounge. Stewart invited me aboard in Durban harbour to have a look at the result, and it was anything but appealing. One hopes that the FOCL reworking will result in the observation lounge being returned to the splendid, unobstructed facility it was?

That notwithstanding, if I was in line for a pending cruise, I’d have Fred.Olsen’s BALMORAL well in my sights. I cannot for the life of me understand why NCL sold this exceptional ship? I would have envisioned it as the perfect replacement for Star Cruise’s SUPERSTAR GEMINI at Singapore?…the former being by far the more substantial vessel…and I believe I have a right to say that because I have cruised on both.

Star Cruises might have then sold SUPERSTAR GEMINI to Fred.Olsen, which already runs the sister ship, BRAEMAR? It’s probably all to do with running costs?…NCL clearly knew what it was doing.

Introducing BALMORAL…indeed a most becoming artist’s impression (sent by Stewart Venn of Triton Cape Sea Travel) of a new Fred.Olsen ‘butterfly’ that will debut in January 2008. The vessel will homeport at Dover for an enticing programme of varied itineraries. If you’re planning a cruise, this ship will be hard to beat. If fact, she’s already my favourite cruise liner in all the world. Right size…right facilities…right onboard philosophy and culture.

BALMORAL joins the FOCL fleet alongside BRAEMAR (as stated, sister of SUPERSTAR GEMINI), with the two classic liners, BOUDICCA and BLACK WATCH (both having undergone full renovation and refurbishment), and BLACK PRINCE, a smaller niche-market vessel.

Fred.Olsen has quietly and resolutely been getting its act together as a serious cruise operator. The formula is clearly working, and it would come as no surprise if this very British operation suddenly announced plans for its first newbuild? The WINDSOR? The BIRKHALL? The SANDRINGHAM?…the possibilities for an attractive name are endless.

The Caribbean is getting even hotter…

During the 2007 Caribbean cruise season, Carnival will carry a record 2.9 million passengers to the region…more than any other year in its history.

CLIA's statistics still show that the Caribbean is the most sought-after cruise destination by far in consumers' minds. "The Caribbean offers everything that consumers want in a vacation - picture perfect weather, gracious hospitality, unique sightseeing experiences, great shopping and, of course, gorgeous beaches," said Vicki Freed, Carnival's SVP of sales and marketing.

"But there's more to the Caribbean than great beaches – this is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, with a rich history dating back centuries, magnificent architecture, and historical attractions and landmarks," she added.

In order to carry those 2.9 million passengers, Carnival will have 18 ships deployed in the Caribbean this season. Fourteen of them remain in the Caribbean year round, and they sail from 12 homeports in the US. Those ships combined will sail approximately 1,150 cruises. And when the ships are in port, Carnival offers almost 900 optional shore excursions in the region.

With that many choices, who could be tired of the Caribbean? For me, the climate’s too hostile in summer, the seas are too calm (unless you’re lucky to skirt a hurricane), and the ports are…well, just so-so! Give me the Mediterranean, Baltic or South American ports any time.

…And Port Everglades to get busier

Florida’s Port Everglades has become a busy port all year round, but in this coming winter, the port will play host to 40 cruise ships from 15 cruise lines.

Of those 40 ships, six will be making maiden calls. COSTA FORTUNA, Cunard's QUEEN VICTORIA, Hapag-Lloyd's BREMEN, EMERALD PRINCESS, ROYAL PRINCESS and Royal Caribbean's NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS.

QUEEN VICTORIA's brief visit on January 16 to embark passengers on its world cruise will be part of its first visit to the United States (which also includes calls at New York and Los Angeles) and will be its only trip to North America until the following year's world cruise.

Even more significantly, Royal Caribbean's 138,000-ton NAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS will be taking up residence at Port Everglades for a winter series of cruises to the western Caribbean. This is the first time a Voyager-class ship has entered the short cruise market and a ship with that many features will probably change the market forever.

This year 3.2 million passengers (embarking and disembarking)
are expected to pass through the port.

Which all rather makes chicken feed of cruise activity anywhere else in the world, does it not? To say that cruising is ‘gathering momentum’ would be a massive understatement. How the industry has evolved in just 10 years is beyond awesome!

Cruise operators have boldly put in orders for huge ships, quite possibly applying the basic “build it…and they will come” philosophy…which has indeed paid off in spades.

I can’t wait to cruise on a brand new cruise liner. I long to experience the massive dimensions, the plethora of facilities and attractions, multiple dining options and top-notch entertainment. Oh, and yes, the odd port of call could be interesting too! Cruise liners, you see, have become destinations unto themselves, and ports of call are merely the cream on top!

We just hope n’ pray no-one has plans to put a spanner in the works… y’unnerstan’ what I’m sayin’?…

…especially in the light of news just to hand…

Too Close for Comfort

It looked like QUEEN MARY 2 was at the centre of a thwarted terrorist plot. It certainly had all the elements:

Last week, two men in an inflatable raft and another in a partially submerged homemade submarine in New York's East River were floating toward QUEEN MARY 2, which was docked at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

In the end, however, it turned out to be three men with a bad sense of what you can do where, especially in these times of heightened security around passenger ships.

An NYPD detective noticed the vessels in the river floating toward QM2 and contacted the NYPD's harbour unit. There is a 30-metre security zone set up around passenger ships, which is maintained by the Coast Guard.

The NYPD's Harbour Unit was the first to arrive, and detained the three, but not before they had floated to within 60 metres of the ship's bow.

The submarine was a copy of one designed during the Revolutionary War propelled by pedal-power, but it was equipped with an oxygen tank.

Shortly after the arrests, however, the NYPD was downplaying the terrorism angle. The men have only been charged with violating QUEEN MARY 2's security zone. The NYPD spokesperson characterized the incident as "marine mischief."

QM2 departed for Southampton on time.

That’s all, folks, see y’all next Wednesday,

In Johannesburg



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