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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

Titanic an Old Story Now…For Now

Mark Lester de Asis laying one of the three commemorative wreaths on Balmoral's Titanic Memorial Cruise on Sunday.

The easy thing to do right now is ignore the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, pretending it didn't exist or that it was at least overblown. The bottom line, however, is that people who like going on cruise ships can never get enough of the Titanic.

Like us.

The Titanic, on the day it slipped away to its demise, was the biggest and most luxurious cruise ship in the world. Today, there are many "Titanics" on the seas, just as big…just as luxurious…and better equipped in almost every way. They are all "children" of the mother ship.

So if you are not like us, which is to say interested in the end of this historic weekend, at least bear with us…

* * * * *

Of all the comments from passengers who were at THAT spot on the Atlantic Ocean at 2:20 a.m. Sunday, the most poignant one was from a British passenger named Jane Allen whose great-uncle, Thomas Pears, died on the ship:

“When you look down over the side of the ship and you realize that every man and woman who was not fortunate enough to get into a lifeboat had to make that decision of when to jump or to stay with the ship, until the lights went out. And when the lights went out it must have been horrendous. We witnessed that tonight,” she told the BBC.

* * * * *

One of the Titanic "historians" who wanted to be on Fred.Olsen's MS Balmoral and trace the Titanic's waves was Rod Stewart. Yes, that Rod Stewart, the one who had a hit song called "Sailing."

Stewart was planning to go it alone, because his wife Penny suffers from seasickness. For weeks, the web was full of stories asking: "Would Rod go."

And now the question is: Did he go?

He did not. In fact, a case of the ’flu kept Stewart from where he wanted to go more, on the same day…the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland.

* * * * *

The Balmoral carried 1,350 passengers and 510 crew members. The Azamara Journey, the other ship on an anniversary memorial cruise, carried 694 passengers and407 crew. In total, that means middle-of-the-night memorials were attended by 2,961 people, about 700 more than were on the Titanic.

* * * * *

Wreaths were dropped from and prayers were spoken on the decks of both ships. Meanwhile, ceremonies were also held on land at — among other places — Belfast where the ship was built, Southampton where it embarked on its fateful journey, and Halifax where the first-responders were 100 years ago and where there are many historical reminders, not the least of which is the cemetery where many unknown remains are buried.

* * * * *

The last known photographs taken on board the Titanic have now been digitized, and the New York Daily News is offering a look at them which, if nothing else, is kind of cool. This is the website.

These pictures were taken by a member of the Jesuit order, Major Frank Brown, who was on the ship from Southampton to Ireland. American millionaires offered to pay his passage to New York and when Brown asked for permission, it was refused and he got off the ship in Cobh, Ireland.

* * * * *

And just in case you think this is all over, it's not. At least two companies are still taking passengers in submersibles to see the Titanic at rest, two and a half miles below the surface (one company had to be coaxed out of "retirement" by the demand).

The journeys last 12 days, and the dives are two hours down and two hours up, with another six or eight hours of exploration.

The tab? Between $59,000 and $59,900 per person…and, yes, there is a demand.


Coral Princess
7 nights
June 4, 2012
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $505
Cost per day: $72

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