It used to be big ships were not considered cool or classy.
Then designers began to add restaurants, theatres and gadgets like waving-making machines to swimming pools.
Heads were turned, often by families who want something for everyone.
And that’s just what I have seen in an inaugural preview of the newest cruise ship afloat, the 4000-passenger Anthem of the Seas, and a $1 billion baby that is a game-changer.
This one, like its slightly older sister, Quantum of the Seas, is a triumph for Royal Caribbean International, masters of the sea when it comes to big ships full of fun and innovation.
I mean, where else can you find two robotic barmen? You choose your drink, they mix it, pour it, serve it, and add the bill to your onboard account. With a tip, mind you. In cruising, some things never change. Read more…
Years ago I met a bloke on a river boat in India. He had made a fortune in Calcutta and was cruising the world in style, and he had no doubt which was his favourite ship. “Sea Cloud,” and putting down his gin & tonic, he looked me in the eye, adding emphatically, “no doubt about it.”
So it happened this winter that a bus dropped me on a grubby little dock in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, and there she was – a big four-masted barque with towering masts and looking absolutely like nothing else in the world.
My companions and I on the bus would fill Sea Cloud, because her capacity is just 65, slightly under the 6,000 on cruise ships of a different kind.
Sea Cloud was launched 84 years ago at a time of elegant liners, just months before the greatest of them all, the Normandie, when the richest men competed to build the biggest yachts with gimmicks to amuse prohibition-era guests, like bars that glided from behind library walls at the touch of a button. Read more…
Bags used to be a drag.
Then pilot Bob Plath came up with the idea of putting wheels on them. There had been variations before, such as strapping on a little trolley, or attaching wheels and a leash, but the former was flimsy and the latter fell over going round corners.
Plath’s bag, the Travelpro, had built-in wheels and was upright – a revolutionary idea – and it rolled with just a touch. So he built a bunch and asked flight attendants to try them out. Their reply was unanimous: “Captain, your bag is the best!”
Plath kept flying Boeing 747s for a number of years (for Northwest-Orient, now part of Delta), but he also incorporated Travelpro, which quickly became a major supplier of suitcases.
In fact within two years all other manufacturers were making their bags upright.
At first it was airlines who were the main buyers – currently 95 airlines around the world buy Travelpro for their flight crews – but they are now widely used by business and leisure travelers.
There is a range of models and sizes, including the new lightweight Crew 10 model with wheels that stay perfectly aligned.
This I can confirm after three months in the US and Central America during which my Crew 10 was on and off aircraft, ships and cars.
It proved to be my best bag ever.
The company’s warehouse in Florida is not far from Plath’s home. It is amazing – the size of several football pitches with convoys of trucks loading every day, and a far cry from its beginnings in Plath’s garage.
Boarding a cruise ship in Miami is not for the faint-hearted. Our taxi driver, probably unhappy that the ride from the InterContinental Hotel was to the nearby cruise port and not the airport, hurtles along the waterfront and drops us amid a throng of souls looking for porters.
Moments later we are being escorted into the terminal, and skirting a long line of check-in desks, we are shown into an cozy lounge, offered a soft drink in a champagne glass, then escorted on to the ship by another bloke in morning dress.
Welcome to MSC Divina, says a receiving line of smiling waiters. We nod and take a lift to deck 16 and the Yacht Club. This is the inner sanctum of Divina, a ship within a ship, where champagne glasses are the order of the day, although the bubbly is usually prosecco. Read more…
I have noted that although more than 20 million passengers go to sea every year, there are few novels on the subject. And in the light of some of the experiences I wanted to share, it had to be a novel!
Never go back, a friend once said.
I am too much of a romantic to follow what could be sensible advice, so I returned to Hydra, Greece, because my experience there around 30 years ago was so delightful, and well, memorable.
I was on a yacht with a handful of friends, and we sailed into the tiny harbour just like Honfleur in Normandy. We had to squeeze in sternfirst, Mediterranean-style, and it was no less crowded on the dock. But when the last ferry left with the day-trippers in the early evening, everything changed.
In fact it was heaven. There are no cars, motorbikes or scooters on Hydra, and as we stepped ashore at sunset the loudest sounds, other than church bells, were the clip-clop of donkeys. Read more…
You know you are on a big ship when you get in a lift and it goes up, up, up and UP … to Deck 17.
When you get there, below is a huge courtyard in the middle of the ship, with balconied cabins having views not of the sea, but of a park. Appropriately, it’s called Central Park.
It’s one of the “neighborhoods” in the vast Oasis of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship, which has just arrived in Europe for the first time, docking at Malaga after a 10-day trans-Atlantic crossing.
For the record, Oasis has capacity for 6,296 passengers, there are 2,165 crew, and the tonnage is 225,282 – about five times Read more…
France is not to be hurried, so the Luciole fits Read more…
It’s noon, an unlikely time for a dance, but I have turned up because my grandson said this was where we had to be. When the music begins, characters in costumes appear and we are swept on to the floor.
A moment later I realize I am dancing with Goofy.
It is none other.
Looking back, it was one of many crazy, fun-filled activities on the Disney Fantasy, a ship designed to bring the kid out on everyone. It is the newest of four, a whopping 130,000 tons and with a capacity of 4000, plus 1450 cast and crew members.
But this is not big ship brash, nothing like many of the mega-ships cluttering up the Med. This is a beauty, a quality ship with grand decor recalling 1930s nautical elegance.
Of course it’s not just for the kids. It’s for the whole family, grandparents included, who are often the ones picking up the bill. Disney calls it multi-generational travel,
and it is a wonderful way to get all the family together, quite often at Orlando, Florida.
This is the location of Disneyworld (Disneyland is in California), home to the Magic Kingdom – and three cracking golf courses, for many years home to an annual PGA event.
Smart travelers will gather here, then take a private shuttle to nearby Port Canaveral on the coast to board the vessels. We did a seven-day Caribbean cruise taking in San Juan, St Thomas and Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay.
It all starts with the captain blowing the ship’s whistle, which rather than the usual deep grunt, plays “When you wish upon a star.” That brings a smile to everyone’s face; Disney’s magic spell has been cast.
Disney Fantasy is an amazing ship with something for everyone, Of course the main thing is giving the kids the time of their lives, and boy does it do a good job.
First and foremost are the characters — Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and the gang are all over the ship, with scheduled Read more…
I will never forget the travel agent in Vancouver, Canada, who had a small sign on her desk which said: “If you can afford to fly first class and you don’t, your relatives will.”
That advice holds true today, even if many travel agents have been put out of business by the internet.
But many good ones survive, usually because they know the business. Such as the one who advised me when I wanted to fly from Bangkok to Brussels. I knew that Thai Airways had a non-stop service with its Boeing 777, but was concerned about the business class seat.
Was it a flat bed, or the dreaded angle-flat? The airline’s website suggested the latter, and I was all set to shuttle to Singapore to take the SQ (Singapore Airlines) flight to Paris, then the train to Brussels.
Then a travel agent told me that on certain flights, maybe twice a week, the aircraft on the route was a Boeing 777-300ER, and that aircraft’s business class was configured with a flat bed, in fact the same bed as the A380. Yet there was no information to this effect on the airline’s website, and when I phoned Thai’s reservation department there was no clarity on the matter.
So it was with some foreboding that we boarded the aircraft, but sure enough, we had two beds that were perfectly flat and comfortable, and a very good night’s sleep was had.
FYI — these flights leave around midnight, so passengers have a choice of dinner beforehand or a meal on the plane. Fact is that Thai’s business class lounge at Bangkok offers plenty of tasty food, and French wine, while you are waiting, although the lounge does get very busy.