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The ‘R Ships’ All Alive And Popular

When we ventured into the waters of the cruise world, the infamous “R Ships” were already history. Consequently, we have neither much knowledge nor appreciation for what they were, but every once in a while we hear about one of the R Ships, and what great ships they were when Renaissance Cruises was in business.

Or…what great ships they are.

The R Ships are still around, under pseudonyms. When Oceania set a one-day record for selling cruises this month, it was for one of the former R Ships, soon to be re-named (again) as the Oceania Sirena. Clearly, its history with seasoned cruisers had something to do with how anxious they were to sail on her again.

At the moment, the Sirena is still the Ocean Princess, which she will remain until Oceanundergoing a $40-million refurbishment one year from this month. Before she was the Ocean Princess, she was simply “R Four.”

There were eight R Ships, starting with R One in 1998. In case you’re wondering what became of them all, or even if you aren’t, here’s the list.

R One — After Renaissance went bankrupt, she became Oceania’s Insignia, then Hapag-Lloyd’s Columbus 2 and last year returned to Oceania as the Insignia again.

R Two — Chartered to Oceania, she was the Insignia before the Insignia was, and later Regattabecame what she is today, the Oceania Regatta (above).

R Three — Since 2002, she’s been the Pacific Princess.

R Four — See above.

R Five — Despatched to Pullmantur Cruises to become the Blue Dream and now with her Oceania brethren as the Nautica.

R Six — Another Pullmantur acquisition, the Blue Star, then the Blue Dream and R Five abdicated the name and went to Oceania and now, since 2007, the Azamara Journey.

R Seven — Chartered to a line called Delphin Seereisen and named the Delphin QuestRenaissance, then to Pullmantur as the Blue Moon and now, since 2007, the Azamara Quest (above).

R Eight — First became the Minerva II for Swan Hellenic Cruises, then sold to Princess to become the Royal Princess and now with P&O Cruises as the Adonia.

The fact that these eight ships — all of them exactly 30,277 tons in size, all of them carrying about 684 passengers — are still popular today is a testament to their design.

In fact, maybe they’ve improved with age. They certainly did when it came to their names.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Costa Fascinosa
7 nights
May 10, 2015
Savona (return): Rome, Palermo, Valletta, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

Only Azamara Cruisers in Normandy on D-Day

Tomorrow, on the shores of northern France, the free world will remember. It will remember that 70 years ago, armies of four nations (Great Britain, France, Canada and the U.S.) stormed the beaches of Normandy in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of World War II.


The armies left behind a trail of tragedy: thousands of dead soldiers, disabled and sunken vessels and code names that became familiar names of the beaches — Utah, Juno BeachJuno, Omaha, Gold and Sword — that are in the French vocabulary and on maps of France to this day. It is good to remember and, for those who still can, it is also painful.

And this has what to do with cruising?

Cruise ships occasionally land at Cherbourg, a pretty city not far from the beaches. Ironically, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow, there will be but one ship in port: Azamara's Journey. Cherbourg isn't exactly a hotspot for cruise ships and only a handful of big ones are still on the schedule for 2014: Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria, Holland America's Prinsendam, Celebrity's Constellation and two from Costa Cruises.

Our visit, four years ago, was during the Celebrity Eclipse's re-positioning cruise to begin its 2010 European season. It gave us a chance to do something we'd often talked about doing: visit the beaches.

They're up to 90 minutes from the port and the only way, really, to visit them is by renting a car. So we did, getting as far as Juno Beach, where we spent so much time Normandythat we barely made it back to the Eclipse before it left to cross the Straits of Dover. Both our fathers had crossed the ocean to fight in World War II and, while neither was in Normandy on D-Day — if they had, maybe we wouldn't be here — our visit made for a moving day in towns and villages occupied by people who never do forget.

Somehow, we don't think our Dads crossed the ocean in anything remotely resembling the palatial vessel that is the Eclipse. They certainly weren't sitting in a breakfast buffet 13 stories above the water wondering what kind of croissant to have with their coffee in the morning, and we can only guess they could likely feel every whitecap hitting the hull that encased their cramped sleeping quarters.

The Eclipse was in port for maybe eight hours. Tomorrow, the Journey will be in Cherbourg for 18 hours, from six in the morning until midnight.

On D-Day, how appropriate is that?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
4 nights
July 31, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $99

Endorsing Jewelry Stores on Shores?

If you've ever been to Alaska then you have discovered, like us, that there can be a jewelry store on every corner…and sometimes in between. Of all the cruise stops we have made, Alaska's lead the league for concentrated jewelry shopping.

So it's BIG business for those Alaska retailers and over the years there have been stories about kickbacks, serious enough that the state implemented regulations to stem the criticism.

According to Alaska Public Media, based on information from one local jewelry store owner, he paid $25,000 plus 10 per cent of sales to be included in the shopping programs that are promoted on cruise ships. The programs are run by media companies that pay the cruiselines for the "privilege" of having their "port lecturers" on the ships. The lecturers allegedly try to convince shoppers to visit the store owners who pay.

If that's true, the cruise lines can say their hands are clean — they just hire the lecturers.

In Alaska, the rules have changed. After investigating complaints, the state made a $200,000 settlement with the three Florida-based companies that send port lecturers to 

Alaska. The companies didn't have to plead guilty but they do have to comply with rules that lecturers now must:

• Disclose they don't work for a cruise line

• Disclose that their sales pitch is a form of advertising

• Refuse from bad-mouthing retailers, presumably the ones who don't pay

• Refuse to make misleading statements about sale prices and return policies

Taping the presentations enables the state to monitor this. The result of viewing 70 recordings has been an improvement, according to non-participating retailers and consumers who will talk.

We've always wondered about the come-ons from port lecturers but never bothered frequenting their recommended jewelry stores…but then you have to be buying jewelry to do that, don't you? Perhaps being naive, it never occurred to us that store owners might be badgered into paying — what is this, the cruise mafia?

Now we're wondering if jewelry-infested ports in the Caribbean might follow suit with "port-lecturer regulations."

Don't hold your breath.

Azamara Journey
14 nights
October 26, 2013
AthensRhodes, Limassol, Suez Canal, Muscat, Dubai
Oceanview: $980
Cost per day: $70


Cruise Eyes on all things Titanic

This being Titanic Weekend, here are three little stories you may not have heard or read…

* * * * *

Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of wireless technology that is everywhere today, was supposed to be on the Titanic, 100 years ago tomorrow. His technology was in use on many ships by 1912 so he and his wife and infant son were invited to make the Titanic's maiden voyage.

However, urgent business in New York meant Marconi had to be there earlier, so he sailed on the Lusitania, which left five days before the Titanic. His wife and four-year-old son were still booked to follow him to New York on the Titanic, until a fever ruled out travel for the youngster. Had they been on board, it's unlikely Marconi would have been in a lifeboat, occupied mostly by women and children.

The irony was not lost on historians, in particular the erudite John Maxtone-Graham, frequently a guest presenter on cruise ships and author of Titanic Tragedy, published last month:

"If not for Marconi, there would have been no survivors. His invention saved 710 people, and if he'd been on the Titanic, it wouldn't have saved him."

* * * * *

The Titanic was the largest, more luxurious ship on the seas at the time of its fateful maiden voyage.

How much have times changed in 100 years?

Given that the "size" of a ship is usually measured by how many passengers it can carry, today's equivalent of the Titanic would be two Royal Caribbean ships, Rhapsody of the Seas and Vision of the Seas, each with a capacity of 2,435 passengers — identical to the Titanic. All but two of Royal Caribbean's other 20 ships carry more people than the Titanic. Only four of Carnival's 24 ships carry fewer…and seven of 16 in the Princess fleet.

In actual size, the Titanic's tonnage (volume of the ship) was 46,328 GRT (Gross Register Tonnage). The tonnage of the two biggest cruise ships of today are Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas is 225,282 GT (Gross Tonnage, the new measure for volume, from the hull in). Titanic was 882.5 feet long; today's two giants are 1,181 feet long. Titanic had nine decks. Oasis and Allure have 16. Titanic was 240 feet, top to bottom. The other two are 310 feet, top to bottom.

You could accommodate more than twice as many passengers on the Royal Caribbean behemoths.

* * * * *

One of the passengers on the Azamara Journey that will cruise to the exact spot, and at the exact time, of the Titanic's sinking is the great-granddaughter of one of the victims and earlier this week was part of an oh-oh moment on CNN.

Sharon Willing, whose great-grandfather Herbert Chaffee put his pregnant wife in the last lifeboat to leave, was being interviewed by CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux. Towards the end of the interview, Malveaux asked her guest about something purposefully left behind in the cold waters of the Atlantic by her great-grandmother.

"Really?" said the astonished descendant. "What was it?"

"A jewel," said the flustered Malveaux, who appeared to be the victim of a sloppy researcher. "That's what we were told by your family."

"I didn't know that," Sharon Willing replied.

Days later, porting in Halifax en route to the site, she was interviewed by local media and asked the inevitable question about the moment she'll be at the scene where a man she never knew had perished.

"I would like to say hello and goodbye…right there," she told the Chronicle Herald's Lois Legge. "I just want to see him, and I think I will.


Carnival Splendor
7 nights
June 3, 2012
Long Beach (return): Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta
Inside:  $629
Cost per day: $89

Mexico's Inside Waters Rocky, Too

Over a group lunch on Sunday, we eavesdropped on a conversation in which one person’s daughter was going to Mexico for spring break.

“Isn’t your daughter worried about going to Mexico?” someone asked.

This week, the Mexican Tourism Board is at the Cruise Shipping Miami 2012 trade show, trying and hoping to sell their towns and cities as port stops. Is there a tougher job in tourism right now?

The mere mention of “Mexico” draws skepticism, most often from people who have never been there. We have been many times, going back 40 years, and it’s always been memorable. A trip to Loreto with “three amigos” in tow was for a long time our favourite family vacation, and still ranks in the top five.


It is, or was, a small town about halfway down the peninsula that is Baja California, on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, the inside waters of the Mexican Riviera. Our memories are of great “liquados” (milkshakes), terrifying car rides, gratifying deep-sea fishing (we don’t fish but did there and caught three large yellowtail tuna) and beautiful weather and beaches. And nice people, especially Rosario and Antonio. There are whales but the only ones we saw were by the pool, covered in suntan lotion.

In recent years, Loreto has been a cruise-ship port, on the route that also takes you to little-known (or obscure) ports such as Pichilingue, Guaymas and Topolobampo (and a train ride to the magnificent Copper Canyon as our cruise colleague Phil Reimer discovered just over a year ago). In 2011, Loreto saw an increase of 25% in cruise passengers, to 10,400, primarily from the Crystal Symphony and Holland America’s Zaandam, which has one stop scheduled next spring as it makes its way north to Alaska.

In 2012, nada. No ships. No passengers.

Disney’s Wonder sails by it. Azamara used to sail by but doesn’t any more. Oceania, like Crystal and Holland America, used to stop there, but doesn’t any more.

The tourism people from Mexico have a tough sell this week in Miami, and little Loreto — with no reported murders nor thefts — is the toughest of all.

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
May 3, 2012
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside $349
Cost per day: $87

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