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The 2016 Iteration of Captain Smith…

It was the most insulting occupation possible. It was the butt of jokes for generations. It was an unthinkable position in which to be.

Captain of The Titanic.

Joke…

As the Titanic was sinking, its passengers were praying, screaming, crying and running. One passenger found the captain and urgently asked him this  question: "How far are we from land?"

Captain: "Two miles."

Passenger: "Only two miles? I think I can swim that far. In which direction should I swim?" 

Captain: "Downward."

Joke…

The Titanic captain calls a meeting of his officers.

"I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?"

"The good news."

"We'll get eleven Oscars."

This is worth mentioning — at least we think it is — because for more than a century the captain of the Titanic has been derisively chastised for allowing the then-big ship to hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean…and now his position is in demand.

As you may have heard or read, there is a replica of the Titanic apparently under construction. It's scheduled for completion three years from now, according to Clive Palmer, the Australian billionaire whose brainchild this is. The idea is that the Titanic will look as it did that cold night in April 1912, from menus to class of passengers (1st, 2nd, 3rd) to lack of televisions to swimming pools and gyms that look as they did 102 years ago.

While the mining magnate hasn't started recruiting staff, he has already had applications.

Eight people want to be the captain, whose name was Edward Smith.

"Some," Palmer told an Australian newspaper, "are cruise-ship captains and some are super tanker captains."

Note: the successful applicant will not be paid according to the pay scale of 1912…but to the scale of 2016.

Titanic II — as he has named it — has also attracted passengers-to-be. Apparently, there are wealthy Americans willing to pay $1 million to be first-class passengers when the ship leaves Southampton late in 2016. About a week later, it will arrive in New York, which of course its predecessor never did.

As long as the captain steers clear of icebergs.


Norwegian Epic
13 nights
October 20, 2013
Barcelona, Funchal, St. Thomas, Miami
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $38
www.ncl.com

Costa Concordia's Ongoing Legacy

Earlier this week, we regaled you — okay, informed you — with things about the Titanic that were new to us. One that we couldn't squeeze in was about the legendary ship's legacy: Its demise in 1914 led to the formation of the International Ice Patrol, and from that day to this, no lives have been lost to ship collisions with icebergs.

Fast forward 98 years.

The Costa Concordia, twice the size of the Titanic, wrecked on rocks near Italy just over a year ago. It has become the modern-day version of the Titanic even though the death toll (32) wasn't nearly as staggering (1,507).

So what will the Concordia's legacy be?

It's already taking shape.

On 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago, CBS did a Concordia update. Among its revolutionary findings: a "new ship" is being welded onto both sides of the Concordia 

"like big Lego" so that the disabled ship can be rolled, raised, buoyed by pumped air and floated to shore, something that's never before been tried. The cost is probably not much less than it was when the Concordia was built nine years ago: $400 million.

On a website belonging to a well-known maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate, Jim Walker, there is concern that the world's two biggest cruise ships — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas — don't have enough lifeboats to carry their massive populations to safety should disaster strike. You can read his fascinating account at www.cruiselawnews, but in essence, it sounds like it would be a stretch for Royal Caribbean to evacuate up to 8,500 people in an "abandon ship" crisis.

The point is, while the Concordia disaster's days in infamy may never be of Titanic proportions, it will certainly continue to have an impact on safety at sea.


Norwegian Spirit
12 nights
April 17, 2013
Barcelona, Toulon, Florence, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Izmir, Athens, Venice
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74
www.ncl.com

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
www.royalcaribbean.com

Reflections on Cruising in 2012

Ten stories in 2012 that caught our attention, in no particular order of significance…

1. The 100th anniversary of the best-known (because it sank) cruise ship of all time, the Titanic. At the precise hour the Titanic went down, on April 15 a century earlier, there were at least two cruise ships (Azamara Journey and the Fred.Olsen Balmoral) were on the scene in what originally seemed like a macabre reminder but in the end was touching and emotional.

2. In an unrelated "the way we were" event, American Cruise Lines unveiled a paddle wheeler that on the outside looked much like the kind of river boats that went up and down the Mississippi in the early 20th century. The Queen of the Mississippi, the first paddle wheeler built for the rover in 20 years, is just as luxurious as her ancestors, relatively speaking…among the then-unimaginable improvements was the Internet.

3. Viking made headlines for the river cruisers by adding six new Longships in 2012 and announcing 10 more would arrive in 2013 with plans for 10 more in 2014. While capacity is far less than ocean cruisers (usually less than 10 per cent), one-week cruises cost a lot more. Are we about to find out if Viking has saturated the river cruise market?

4. The face of Godmothers changed. Oceania introduced an openly lesbian godmother (Cat Cora) for the Riviera, Celebrity gave the title(s) to four women who were cancer survivors or cancer survivor advocates on its Reflection, and Norwegian announced its New York-based ship (Breakaway) would have the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall as godmothers in perpetuity…because there will always be Rockettes. Yet none was more moving than Tracy Mourning, Godmother of the Carnival Breeze and a woman whose charitable efforts continue to impact young women in Florida.

5. After all the analyses and speculation and concern about hurricanes in the Caribbean and their impact on cruise ships, the one that had the greatest effect on ship itineraries was in the waters of the north-eastern seaboard, Hurricane Sandy.

6. New catchphrases for upscale marketing, when Oceania reinforced its "upper premium" status with the arrival of the Riviera and Celebrity introduced "modern luxury" after Michael Bayley replaced Don Hanrahan at the head of the No. 2 line in the Royal Caribbean family.

7. Norwegian, the biggest cruise line that isn't in the Carnival or Royal Caribbean conglomerates, unveiled plans to supplement its 2013 (Breakaway) and 2014 (Getaway) new ships with a "Breakaway-Plus" ship in 2015 and an option on another one for 2017.

8. The Costa Concordia. Long after it capsized and took 32 people to their deaths 13 days into the year, its impact lingered all year, and will continue to linger until long after the ship is raised and destroyed, either in name or in body.

9. An Australian mining billionaire, Clive Palmer, unveiled plans to build a Titanic replica, prompting this from Carnival CEO Micky Arison to quip: "Mr. Palmer is a billionaire with ambitions to become a millionaire!"

10. The George Bushes — as in George and Barbara — crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 the way they do most things…quietly.


Carnival Imagination
4 nights
February 25, 2013
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54
www.carnival.com
 

Costa Concordia: Something Good

The cruise industry will always remember the Costa Concordia. If it's not a modern-day version of the Titanic, its impact on the industry is of titanic proportions.

That part happened on Thursday, eight months and seven days after the Concordia keeled over in Mediterranean waters off the Italian coast, killing 32 passengers.

Thursday's fallout was this:

At least once every six months, crew members on ocean-going cruise ships must undergo rigorous training with lifeboats, simulating actual emergency conditions. Lifeboats will be filled to capacity with other crew members and lowered into the water, so that crew members know exactly what to do in an emergency. All crew members involved in "operating or loading of lifeboats" must attend the drill.

Training begins immediately.

Who says cruise lines have to comply?

The Cruise Lines International Association and the European Cruise Council will order all its members to implement the new policy, which is called Life Boat Loading for Training Purposes. That pretty much covers all major cruise lines.

The review that led to Thursday's announcement began right after the Concordia wrecked on the rocks and turned onto its starboard side. It still sits in the waters where the accident occurred and it will be sometime next year before it is returned to port.

To all cruise lines, passenger safety is the No. 1 priority because, frankly, it's the one thing that can topple the entire fleet of lines. That's now less likely to happen, thanks to the Concordia.

But that's what everybody thought before the fateful Friday the 13th in January, too.


Holland America Zaandam
14 nights
November 17, 2012
San Diego (return): Hilo, Honolulu, Nawilwili, Lahaina, Ensenada
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $71
www.hollandamerica.com
 

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