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It's a ship's life out there

Sometimes cruise ships can be like convicts. They have a lot of aliases.

It's not criminal for ships to undergo name changes, although sometimes it might seem criminal for a great old ship to become known as something else, and something else…

Like the Song Of Norway.

One of the people we encountered told us he started his career on Song of Norway. This is a ship with a rich history and we didn't know much about it, so we wereintrigued. Besides the fact that it now has at least eight aliases, we think you'll find this as interesting as we did.

Let's start with the fact that it was the first ship made for Caribbean cruises. That was in 1970, when the cruise clientele was just a fraction of what it is today. Song of Norway was Royal Caribbean's first cruise ship…so how many passengers do you think such a vessel would be built to carry in 1970?

Try 724.

This first ship to service Labadee, now Royal Caribbean's private port in Haiti, became a vital part of the expansion of cruising. By the time she was only eight years old, she had to be lengthened by 85 feet to accommodate the mushrooming crowd of people who wanted to go on a "Caribbean cruise."

That increased Song of Norway's capacity by 65 per cent…to 1,196 passengers.

The ship stayed with Royal Caribbean until 1997 when, at the age of 27, it began going under cover…isn't that what happens when people (or ships) need an alias? It was sold  to Sun Cruises and became the Sundream. Then the Dream Princess…the Dream…the Clipper Pearl…the Clipper Pacific…the Festival…the Ocean Pearl…so many names, in so many places.

What started in the Caribbean ended, more or less, last year when her owners — by then Happy Cruises — unhappily filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. Today, you'll find "Song of Norway" in the water near China, where she is, of all things, a floating casino.

Her name, alias number eight, is Formosa Queen.

Celebrity Millennium
17 nights
November 20, 2013
Sydney, Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin, Benoa, Singapore
Inside: $1,399
Cost per day: $82

Queen Elizabeth 2: At Last A Plan

In Sierra Leone, there is a quay known as QE2. In Ontario, there is a park called QE2. In Great Britain, there is a thoroughbred stakes race that goes by the QE2. And just down the roadway from there in Buckingham Palace is the real QE2…Queen Elizabeth herself.

But for cruisers, there can only be one QE2, and this month she was a newsmaker once again.

The former Cunard ocean liner is in Port Rashid, Dubai. She's been there for almost four years, moored in the harbor awaiting her fate. She was purchased from Cunard to become a floating hotel, museum and entertainment center in Dubai, and then along came a recession that even eroded the wealth of people like Sheikh Mohammed.

On New Year's Eve 2011, the Queen Elizabeth 2 was the site of a party. It was her first event since arriving in the United Arab Emirates in 2008, and a preview of what was to come. Events on the ship were being booked for 2012 and 2013. Then this month, the owners announced the QE2 will indeed become the floating hotel she was scheduled to be, following a modest refurbishment over the next 18 months.

She's not getting the facelift-lapband-botox treatment, just a little cosmetic caring. The characteristics that made her special — in other words, most of her original features — will be retained. Renovations will be minor in the creation of the 3-room hotel.

QE2's time in Dubai has been almost as interesting as her history. In 2009, she was advertised for sale on a cruise ship version of ebay. That same year there were rumors QE2 would return to Cunard's ancestral home, Liverpool. Then she was to sail to South Africa to be a floating hotel at the World Cup, another plan that was aborted. Then she was going to be re-located to London, or Singapore, or Japan, or Australia. Once she was adrift, breaking her moorings like an aging senior trying to escape the old folks home where she'd been sent by her family. There were fears that in the end she would just become scrap iron.

It's true that her sisters came to visit — Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and even the one who took her place, the Queen Elizabeth — but it was never going to be like the old days. She was the eldest Queen, launched by Cunard in 1967, and had been in service for 40 years so her odometer was worn the most. The QE2 sailed an estimated six million miles, carrying 2.5 million passengers and crossing the Atlantic more than 800 times, went around the world more than 25 times.

Her Godmother — or at least the woman who christened her — was Queen Elizabeth 2.

That's right, the other one.

Norwegian Jewel
7 nights
September 15, 2012
Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria, Vancouver
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85


The Cruise Ship That's Always First


You know what they say about the first time, right? Whether it's your first boyfriend or girlfriend, your first job, your first holiday, or your first…well, you get the idea. It's special and, whether the experience is good or bad, it's unforgettable.

Let us tell you about our first cruise ship.

It was 1991, or thereabouts. The ship was the Carnival Jubilee. Mexican Riviera cruise, seven days, with the usual stops. Our waiter in the dining room — same time, same table, every night — was from Jamaica and his name was Rochester. We even exchanged addresses.

For a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with Rochester, our maiden cruise was mediocre at best. Then again, what did we know? We were neophytes on a cruise ship and in those days smoking was permitted pretty well everywhere on ships and that, with three children, contributed to the experience's mediocrity.

Cruise lines have changed, and so have we. So has the Jubilee.

She was a fairly new ship then, which means today she is a fairly old ship. A ship's sea life is usually about 35 years, and the "Jubilee" is now 26, sailing up on her retirement years. Carnival sold — or transferred her — to P&O Australia eight years ago and the Jubilee immediately became known as the Pacific Sun.

Yesterday, our friend and colleague Phil Reimer at portsandbows.com reported that the Pacific Sun ended her cruise career on Monday, in Australia. She has been sold — and this time it is not a company transfer — to interests in China, where she will end her sea days as a cruise ship under another name. That's the most fertile part of the world for cruising, because of the numbers of people who have and haven't ever been on a ship.

For them, the "Jubilee" will also be their first time.

Carnival Spirit
12 nights
September 18, 2012
Vancouver, Kona, Kauai, Hilo, Kahului, Honolulu
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $99

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