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The Cruise Ship in Perpetuity


On Saturday in Las Vegas, we visited one of the seven Titanic exhibitions in the U.S. and, in case you think the public's appetite for the most star-crossed cruise ship in history has been lost, No. 8 opens in two weeks in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was our first "Titanic museum" experience, and we entered it with assumed names, Thomas Andrews Jr. and Dagmar Jenny Ingeborg Bryhl. Since Dagmar was a "Miss" it was clear they were not (like us) husband and wife.

This is the novel way the curators of The Artifact Exhibition start to take you back in time, by issuing Titanic tickets in the names of two passengers. They also point out you can check the list of passengers at the exit to see if you survived, or perished in the disaster.

An eerie stroll through this time capsule, a fixture at the Luxor in Vegas, takes about an hour. It is, as you might expect, full of artifacts from the sunken luxury liner, many of them "never before seen" and for people like us who'd never been to an exhibition, that sell line was a certainty. Yet we found it was the people — survivors and victims — whose stories were more compelling, many of which were "never before heard" (at least by us).

Like the French salesman who packed 65 vials of perfume in his luggage, 62 of which were recovered 90 years later, and you can still get a whiff of the fragrance among the artifacts.

Like a famous fashion designer named Lady Lucille Duff Gordon, who wrote in her diary: "Fancy strawberries in April and in the middle of the ocean…why, you would think you were at The Ritz!"

Like the Larouche family of six heading for Argentina because the husband/father had a better chance of employment in his native country.

Like Thomas Andrews (right), the White Star Line's chief designer, who was on the ship only because his uncle (one of the company's owners) was ill and couldn't go.

Like the British passenger angrily leaving his fiancee behind because he had to attend his brother's wedding in Chicago, writing: "Right now I wish the Titanic were lying at the bottom of the ocean."

There are more than 2,200 such stories from the Titanic, and more than 1,500  of them are at the bottom of the ocean. For us, they're more interesting than looking at broken tea cups and dirty socks and bedposts from the grand old ship, although we did find "The Big Piece" fascinating. It's a chunk of the starboard side of the ship, 26 feet long, and it will have a 10-year stay at the Luxor, five of which remain. But imagine that from a ship 823 feet long, the biggest piece recovered is just 26 feet, and that it took two years just to remove enough salt to slow its deterioration.

It was Thomas Andrews who delivered the death knell to the Titanic's captain, on that April night almost 101 years ago. After the designer assessed the damage he reported that sinking was a "mathematical certainty." He never made it into a lifeboat.

Dagmar Bryhl did.

Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas
4 nights
April 4, 2013
Tampa (return): Cozumel
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $102

This Time, Cruising Hit by Hurricane

Get ready for the hurricane.

Not Sandy, the "hurricane" of stories that we're going to hear from cruisers who have been stranded while trying to reach their ship, tossed around on ships, left at sea, compensated by airlines/cruise lines, not compensated by airlines/cruise lines, missed ports, missed ships, had their cruise shortened, had their cruise lengthened…

This may go down as the week that the cruise ship industry was most affected by hurricanes. One hurricane.

With at least 20% of the entire U.S. population affected by Hurricane Sandy, here's a rough re-cap of how some cruise ships were impacted (as reported by Cruise.Co, Cruise Critic and a myriad of news sources on the Internet):

• Five ships yesterday were caught in or near 30-foot seas churned by Sandy — Norwegian Jewel, Carnival Miracle, Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, Aida Luna and the Queen Mary 2 (trying vainly to escape Sandy's path as it headed east for England).

• Holland America's Eurodam had to change its departure from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville, bussing all its passengers over 320 miles in windy conditions.

• Disney's Fantasy finally made it to Port Canaveral with a shipload of scared and sick passengers tossed around while the Fantasy sustained damage to restaurants, bars, shops and stateroom furniture.

• One ship, Carnival Pride, was forbidden to depart from Baltimore by the U.S. Coast Guard and the cruise was canceled.

• Passengers on another Carnival ship, the Glory, were issued refunds because the Norfolk (Virginia) cruise terminal is behind a flood gate that closed on the weekend.

• Eight other Carnival ships on the East Coast were forced to delay departures or arrivals and skip or change ports for other stops, or add an extra sea day.

• Three other Norwegian ships were affected…the Gem is sitting out in calmer Atlantic waters until the hurricane passes, which could turn a 9-day cruise into 12, while the Dawn and the Sky also shuffled departures and ports.

• The Emerald Princess escaped rough seas by stopping in Port Saguenay (Quebec) instead of Bar Harbor (Maine), and three other Princess ships changed itineraries.

• Four Royal Caribbean ships — Enchantment, Jewel, Majesty and Monarch of the Seas — also changed schedules or added sea days to escape Sandy's wrath.

Blessed with modern technology, cruise ships are almost always able to escape hurricanes. This one, because of its mushrooming size and force, may turn out to be the exception. And with compensation packages reaching far into the future, not to mention far into the bank accounts of cruise lines, the effects could be felt for a long, long time.

In the days ahead, expect to hear many first-person and harrowing accounts of life on a cruise ship during a hurricane.

Celebrity Silhouette
15 nights
April 14, 2013
Fort Lauderdale, Coco Cay, San Juan, St. Maarten, Madeira, Rome
Inside: $789
Cost per day: $52

Curious Host for Carnival Cruise

We try to be tolerant when it comes to giving people who go wrong another chance. We understand that cruise lines are looking to reduce the age level of their demographic. We believe that somebody is guilty of nothing until proven so, and we know that you have to take what’s on Wikipedia with a grain of salt.

However, the following cruise news is…well, curious.

Carnival and R. Kelly, a Grammy Award winner, are collaborating on a “Love Letter Cruise” on the Fun Ship, Destiny. It’s being promoted on both websites, it’s next October and it’s a return sailing from Miami. R. Kelly is the host and the name of his latest album is “Love Letter.”

Over the years — he’s 44 now — R. Kelly has been charged with a litany of criminal acts, almost all of which were thrown out for one reason or another. If you really want to know some of the details, just Google it. He can probably draw a crowd, probably still a young crowd, which is Carnival’s mantra.

What makes this so curious is every cruise line go out of its way to avoid controversy and having R. Kelly host a cruise seems, if nothing else, to invite controversy.

Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas
7 nights
September 30, 2012
Boston (return): Portland, Bar Harbor, Saint John, Halifax
Inside $738

Cruising with Care for Handicapped

Full disclosure: If what you are about to read sounds like a plug for the company involved, it isn’t intended. We do not know the company or the principals. We personally have not used the company’s product (thank goodness). Our cousins have, and that’s the reason we’re passing along their endorsement.

The company is called Care Vacations. The business is providing physically challenged people with the tools they need to navigate their way around a cruise ship. Lyle and Marilyn, our cousins, qualify. They also love cruising.

“We’ve used them four times now,” says Marilyn. “We’ve never had a problem. When we get on the ship, the scooter is waiting for us in the stateroom.”

This company is not the only one in the field. Searching the Internet turned up another, called Scootaround. Both provide mechanical mobility — Care Vacations seems to specialize in the cruise business, as opposed to travel in general. It also provides respiratory equipment, patient lifters, shower chairs and even hospital beds. It’s been around 20 years and services 20 ports in the U.S., three more in Canada and select ports world-wide…and it has the authorization of all major cruise lines.

People with disability issues have a tough enough time being able to travel, so anything that makes it easier is welcome, no matter what the cost. For Marilyn and Lyle, being regular Care Vacations customers also delivered a bonus…no, not a frequent-user points bonus.

Last year, they booked a Royal Caribbean cruise on Jewel of the Seas, through New England and into Canada. Embarkation was at Cape Liberty in New Jersey. Their flight from central Wisconsin had a stop in Detroit and ran into weather problems. The ship left at five o’clock. They arrived at 5:45.

Not only were they able to work out compensation with the cruise line, but Care Vacations gave them a full credit for their scooters. That’s how companies like this build customers…for life.

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