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Photo Essay: Captains of the Seas

We’ve only met, over the years of cruising, one ship’s captain we didn’t like — and that's likely because he never gave us the chance to like him (“I don’t do interviews”). This is a colony of mostly men who are all personable, often funny, always accommodating and forever fascinating.

These are our top ten, in no particular order — hey, what's wrong with having 10 favourites? — and we've included something about them that we hope you'll find interesting:

1-Capt. Gustavsen-Sky

Captain Roger Gustavsen (Norway), Norwegian Sky 
The first captain to invite us to watch departure from the bridge, he once had his mother there on the Norwegian Dream while negotiating the Kiel Canal: “You know how mothers always like to tell their sons what to do. She wanted to tell me how to drive the ship!”

2-Capt. Manetas-Eclipse

Captain Dimitrios Manetas (Greece), Celebrity Eclipse 
He watched ships come and go from his home in Piraeus, near Athens: “
I knew when I was a teenager, about 15, that I would be on the sea. it always inspired me. I was always curious for the unknown.”

3-Henrik Loy-Explorer

Captain Henrik Loy (Norway), Explorer of the Seas 
​One of the youngest (38) captains anywhere, he met his wife Karina, now a mother of three, when she was a dancer on Liberty of the Seas when they met and he calls it: “A true love boat story. We are really on the same page and we make it work.

4-Frank Juliussen-Epic

Captain Frank Juliussen (Norway), Norwegian Epic 
He had to overcome seasickness and bad days at sea: “
I don't have bad days and I have learned to enjoy this. You meet a lot of nice people. The world is full of nice people, and a lot of them do what they call ‘dirty work’ on cruise ships.”

5-Capt. Amitrano

Captain Fabio Amitrano (Italy), Coral Princess  A seaman for more than four decades since he left Ischia, a resort island with hot springs: “All the ladies come there to look younger. It must work, because they keep coming back!” 

6-Capt. Viacama-Ecstasy

Captain Andrea Viacava (Italy), Carnival Ecstasy 
A character with an easy laugh and a sense of humor: "
When I am stressed, I go down in the galley and cook a meal. I cook something every day. Gnocci, risotto with pumpkin…sometimes I cook for 40 persons.”

7-Capt. Dahlgren-Navigator

Captain Patrik Dahlgren (Sweden), Navigator of the Seas 
He’s still not 40, he’s now Royal Caribbean’s Vice-President of Marine Operations for Quantum of the Seas Technology, after serving for years as the youngest captain anywhere on the ocean: “I started when I was 12.”

8-Capt. Manzi-Coral

Captain Luca Manzi (Italy), Oceania Riviera 
When he visits his roots in Italy: “I still have to explain what I do for a living. My friends ask what I do — ‘Sailing?' In Italian, it's the word used to surf the Internet, so now I say I do nothing for a living."

9-Capt. Vorren-Epic

Captain Trygve Vorren (Norway), Norwegian Epic 
Not long before he died suddenly, he shared thoughts on the size of ships: “What will catch people’s attention will be the future. Look at the last 20 years…we developed technology we never imagined. What did we do, not in cruising but in life, before the Internet?”

10-Capt. Tore-Allure

Captain Tore Grimstad (Norway), Allure of the Seas 
Now sharing the captain’s chair on the Allure with close friend Johnny Faevelen, he was once on an American-Russian-Norwegian ship with the capability of launching rockets, near the equator: “I was captain, not a rocket scientist!"

Today at portsandbows.com: Reflecting on the cruise news of 2014

Carnival Glory
7 nights
January 24, 2015
Miami (return): Half Moon CaySan JuanSt. Thomas
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $42


An Epic Journey Ending In Caribbean

Barnacled and bruised, and beleaguered since birth, the Norwegian Epic is riding off into the sunset next spring. Perhaps the sun will be kinder to the big ship in Barcelona because, on this side of the ocean, the sun appears to have done melanoma-like damage.

EpicAmong the critics, that is.

The Epic arrived in New York in the summer of 2010. Despite her size (4,100 passengers minimum and close to 6,000 maximum), she was never the biggest. She was never the prettiest, sometimes derisively described as the ship with a box-top hat. She was never duplicated and when the idea of a potential sibling was aborted before Norwegian spent any more on the plan it only added to her unpopularity.

Yet we loved the Epic.

We were fortunate enough to cruise on her twice. She was the biggest “freestyle” ship anywhere, and that helped. She introduced Blue Man Group to the seas, and that was better than we anticipated. With a somewhat unorthodox traffic flow, there were pre-launch predictions of line-ups everywhere, but they never materialized. Only on the Epic was serious attention paid to accommodation for singles, and that made her a trend-setter.

Maybe it was because her first master, Trygve Vorren, was as nice a captain as we’ve ever met after being told he wouldn’t be, and because we had a chance to know him a little, not many months before he boarded the big cruise ship in the sky. And that his successor, Slam AllenFrank Juliussen, was just as warm, as honest and as entertaining…two years later. Maybe it was because Slam Allen blew us away with his performances at Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club on the Epic, even though we’re not huge fans of fat cats, jazz or blues.

The disaster in the cabins — sort-of see-through bathroom doors — was so much a non-starter with passengers that two years ago (when she was a two-year-old) readers of Travel Weekly picked the Epic as the “best overall individual cruise ship” for the third year in a row, and that same year Porthole Magazine named her the “Best Mega Ship.”  She has also been decorated for her entertainment, new restaurants, gambling venue and family appeal.

In what has to be an unusual marketing ploy, Norwegian is promoting her final Caribbean cruises as the Epic’s “Farewell Tour in the Caribbean” when her cruising days there end next April. Judging by the ship’s passenger popularity, it’s probably a certainty to sell out.

Why is the Epic leaving?

Norwegian has launched two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) since the Epic and two more (Escape and Bliss) are coming. The place to start new ships is always in the Caribbean, the world’s cruising hotspot, and there is a limit to a cruise line’s capacity. So it is time for the Epic to move on, perhaps to calmer waters.

It’ll be interesting to see how Europeans take to her. Undoubtedly, the Epic will undergo some changes to cater to Europe’s tastes and culture. They’ll have her for three years, minimum, and probably longer. However, if she’s not welcome, there’s a lot of us who would take her back.


Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
November 16, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $29

Allure Of The Seas: Captain Tore


You step onto the "biggest cruise ship in the world" and — to use Royal Caribbean vernacular, you are WOW-ed. That's what the majority of around 6,000 people experience every week, when the Allure of the Seas sail out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale if they're seeing the big ship for the first time.

How about the captain? How did he feel the first time he boarded Allure of the Seas?

Tore Grimstad is one of two captains of the Allure. For him, that day was August 4, 2013.

"My God," he remembers with the broad smile that is his trademark. "I came from Freedom of the Seas. Really? This was like an apartment building. It's amazing what Capt. Torethey've done. It's mind blowing."

And being on the bridge to sail it?

"Something about this ship made me feel included right away," he says. "It's been really great. I enjoy every day. To be able to navigate narrow ports in shallow waters is fascinating and challenging, and gives me a feeling of pleasure. But the highlight of the job is the crew. I really mean that. I don't want to become some kind of celebrity because I'm not. It's the team."

In the case of the Allure (and Oasis of the Seas), the team is 2,160 strong.

"I focus a lot on the crew, keeping them happy and treating them with respect," he adds. "If the crew is happy, everyone is happy."

Captain Tore (they go by "Captain" and their first names) is an interesting study because, in part, that's what cruise ship captains are. Most of them come from Scandinavia (he's a Norwegian) or Italy, many from a family steeped in the ways of the sea.

Tore Grimstad is a 7th-generation man of the sea and home was, and still is, the islands on the south-west coast of Norway. He comes from the islands of Gurskoy/Hareid-Landet — try finding that on your map — where he grew up reading and hearing "juicy stories from the seven seas." It wasn't a given that he would be a seaman, but it was natural.

"It just happened," he says.

Like so many, being a fisherman came first, followed by a compulsory stint in the service, in his case the Royal Navy. That was followed by working on a cargo tanker, spending some time ashore to find out it wasn't for him, and sending out 40 applications that could lead to a return to the sea.

"They all said no," he recalls.

So he pounded the pavement and, fortunately, walked into an office in Bergen to find an agent from Royal Caribbean. Once Grimstad laid out his experience and his desire, 3-Capt. Torethe agent said:

"Yes, can you be in New York in six days? We need a second officer on the Song of America."

Six days turned out to be eight. With his navy background, Tore was a stickler for instructions, so when his papers told him to take a bus from JFK to a hotel in Times Square, that's what he did. It was, needless to say, his first time in New York and here's what followed:

"I never understood that you could have a hotel in the middle of a building, and I was walking around. that block many times until I realized the Marriott was actually on the 28th floor."

That was 1994 and the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship with Royal Caribbean. In those days, ships were registered in Norway, and bridge officers were hired and paid in Norway. When the cruise line flagged out its last Norwegian ship, he was automatically unemployed.

Grimstad worked a variety of sea-related jobs, including captain of a Norwegian-Russian-American ship stationed near the equator with the capability of launching rockets ("I was a captain, not a rocket scientist"), plus a relief position with the small European cruise line Fred.Olsen.

For the next two years, he left the door open for a return to Royal Caribbean, as a staff captain. He walked through it a couple of times, filling in as captain of Explorer of the Seas and then Freedom.

One of his best friends, fellow Norwegian Johnny Faevelen, was a Royal Caribbean captain and when Grimstad was close to moving to another cruise line offering more money, Faevelen convinced him to join his team on Serenade of the Seas. Last summer, when Tore arrived to be captain of the Allure, "Captain Johnny" was waiting for him.

"He said: '"So glad to see you…so glad the company chose you'…and he gave me a hug," Captain Tore adds. "There's nobody like him."

Today, Captain Johnny and Captain Tore share more than a friendship. They share the "biggest cruise ship in the world", switching chairs every 10 weeks.

Allure-5Tomorrow: The home life of Captain Tore

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Venice a study in history

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
12 nights
September 1, 2014
Fort LauderdaleMalagaBarcelona
Balcony: $869
Cost per day: $72

A Captain Good, Young and Personable

Over the years we have met — and listened to — many cruise-ship captains as they interact with passengers. Some clearly enjoy it, some clearly don't. Some communicate easily (remember, English is usually not their first language), and some struggle to be understood.

Captain Henrik Loy, most recently at the helm of Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, gets full marks on both counts. He is engaging, articulate, personable and comfortable. He's also just 37, still young for a position he has held for three years.

In our wide-ranging interview, something he said revealed all you need to know about Captain Henrik's character.

Given that he has been with the company for 16 years, given that almost every employer wants to promote somebody who is both good and young, and given that his ship is being replaced on the New Jersey-to-Bermuda run by the new Quantum of the Seas in 2015, we asked how he felt about the possibility that he could stay in the same home port (Bayonne) on a different ship (Quantum).

Here was his response:

"I never really put my name forward and I haven't really had any preferences. I don't have that desire and I take what is given to me. A ship is a ship. Whatever ship I'm on, I want to be the greatest captain and build the greatest team. Whether it's the oldest or the newest, it's not that important. Maybe it's the Norwegian in me. In Norway, we like to be recognized rather than ask for things. It's still in me. It's still in my culture. I would be very honored to be asked to go on Quantum of the Seas but whether a ship is big or small, it's the people who make it."

Captain Henrik — on cruise ships many captains go by their first names — is originally from Bergen but now lives in England, in the midlands north of London. He met his wife Karina on Liberty of the Seas, where she sang in the ship's production show ("a true love boat story," says her husband), and she is British. With three little ones (4, 2 and 1) and Henrik's 14-year-old son, she gave up her profession at sea for family life.


"She loves to be a stay-at-home mom," he says. "She worked ten years at sea so she knows my job. It's not a big mystery. We spoke a lot about this before we got married. I was very honest from the start. I'm completely committed to this and I don't want to stop. We are really on the same page and we're going to make it work. That's our story."

As a captain, he is away 10 weeks at a time and whenever possible his family is able to join him on board. They spend his 10-week holidays doing everything from hiking in the mountains in the summer to skiing the Alps in winter, and making sure their children are kept in touch with their Norwegian roots. He gets a lot of questions about his occupation…and his youth.

"I joke and tell them it's just an online course that takes a week!"

Being a captain is, of course, much more than that. Being a captain like Henrik Loy is a gift.

His command of English began early; in Norwegian schools everybody studies it. His ability to connect with passengers is something he has come to enjoy.

"In the beginning it was yet another breakthrough…public speaking, being social at cocktail parties, chatting with people," he explains. "Now I really enjoy things like that because I feel I can really make a difference to our passengers, and that's gratifying. I evolved personally by having no fear standing in front of people and giving speeches, not being nervous or dreading it. It doesn't drain my energy to prepare for it. I enjoy it more and more."

As captain of the Explorer, he usually has a unique demographic of passengers. Many are from the New York area and that alone makes them unique.

"I have come to love the demographic," Captain Henrik says. "I feel like I know them…resonate…have great rapport with them. They let you know when they're happy, and they really let you know when they're not happy, but they always look you in the eye and say good morning."

And if they're as pleasant as he is, it's no wonder he likes them.

Celebrity Reflection
15 nights
November 1, 2013
Rome, Tenerife, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Miami
Inside: $749
Cost per day: $49

This Captain a 'Man' of the Seas

Upon reflection, Henrik Loy knows he was born to be at sea. In the 34 years between that day and the one when he became one of the youngest cruise ship captains in history — with Royal Caribbean — every step of his journey re-affirmed that belief.

Captain Loy was conscious of his place in the world at an early age, in his hometown of Bergen, Norway.

"Bergen is a busy cruise port, and you could see and smell the ocean from our house," he explains. "I was always going into town in the summer and watching ships come and go. It was always a part of me."

When he was five, one of the ships that came to Bergen was the SS Norway. On cruise ships, there's rarely a Norwegian who doesn't have a remembrance, and a feeling, for this grand old ship.

"This was before the security restrictions so we were able to go on board," Loy says. "It took an eternity to walk from one end to the other and, for me, it was a spark that came alive quite early. We had relatives who lived up the fjords and we had to travel there by boat. It was so beautiful and I could stand out on deck all day, all the time."

By the time he was 17, Henrik Loy had made a career decision. At 18, during his final year of high school, he concurrently studied at Bergen Maritime School while others his age had evenings, weekends and holidays for fun adventures. At 19, he graduated from maritime school when most aspiring seafarers would be halfway there. At 20, he served his mandatory year of military, with the Coast Guard.

"I couldn't wait," he says. "After being with the Coast Guard, then I really knew it was in my blood. I spent another two years at maritime college and there was a lot of studying, a lot of sacrifice, but I was just so passionate I wanted to learn it all. I was intrigued. I just enjoyed it. I never felt like it was hard, hideous work, so I didn't struggle. I scored very high."

Armed with his Master Mariner degree, he was ready, but Royal Caribbean didn't exactly come calling. What followed was something of a fluke.

In de-briefing from the intense final exam with a classmate, Loy was preparing to take the summer off and apply somewhere — he knew not where — in the fall. On the day of the last exam, his classmate asked if Henrik had applied at Royal Caribbean. He said no. Well, said his friend, everyone has applied there so do it…right now.

So Henrik Loy called the same number his friend had called. A hiring agent in Oslo, Ola Morken, answered. After the applicant explained who he was, what his credentials were and that he was ready to work, what Morken said went something like this:

"Thank goodness! We need a man right now and I just opened my drawer and was staring at a huge pile of applications, which I was dreading to go through. Why don't you catch a train and come here tomorrow?"

Loy did. He was hired on the spot and began a five-month contract on the then-new Enchantment of the Seas.

"I was flying," he said. "At 10:30 that morning, I met my sister for a beer. I would never drink a beer at 10:30. But I believe in coincidences like that. I instantly get a feeling I am on the right path. To me, those are signals. I didn't even have an application but it was meant to be. It landed in my lap."

The coincidences weren't over yet.

When his five months ended on Enchantment, Loy went home to wait for his next assignment. Nobody called. Finally, coincidentally, he called Royal Caribbean's agent.

"I'm still here," he said. "Do you have anything for me?"

The response was: "Didn't you know? We have a flight for you this afternoon and you will join Monarch of the Seas in Barbados tomorrow."

These days, having been on eight ships "of the Seas" Captain Henrik can laugh about that mini panic attack.

"Somehow," he says, "that message never reached me."

Because it did, he has now spent 16 years with Royal Caribbean. In 2010, he was first commissioned as a captain at the age of 34, and among Royal Caribbean captains only Patrick Dahlgren became a captain at an earlier age. This year, Captain Loy completed a contract on Explorer of the Seas.

One day…QuantumAllureOasis?

More on that, and a personal look at this most personable Norwegian, tomorrow.

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
September 7, 2013
BostonBar HarborHalifaxSydneyCharlottetownQuebec City
Inside: $529
Cost per day: $75

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