30 April 2012
Tuesday 3rd April 2012
Today is ISLAND ESCAPE day, hooray, and the reason for coming to Palma. I am booked on a 7 night cruise – Spirit of the Mediterranean – her first cruise of the season after her winter lay-up in Cadiz. I took the local bus to the cruise terminal area, crossed the road, and entered one of the terminal buildings. I had been here a couple of times before so passed the Acciona ferries desks, went up the escalator and the man at the overhead walkway looked at my passport and ticket and waved me along. I was about to board the ship at the overhead gangway when the security man realised I had no boarding card. Apparently I shouldn’t have been able to get that far without the vital boarding card, so I was guided to the ship’s Reception desk to explain how I had got there, and was finally issued with a boarding card. Well, at last I knew my cabin number. I never did find out where the cruise ship terminal check-in part of the building was, but it certainly wasn’t obvious… Most passengers were on the fly-cruise holiday, so had arrived from the airport by coach, and were delivered into the Terminal buildings, but I was one of very few passengers who were booked for a ‘cruise only’.
My cabin 5855 was an inside for single use, with another berth up out of sight. It was cold and had a duvet, pillows and towel on the bed, just like a ferry. Oh, I forgot, this ship started life as a ferry thirty years ago. This trip was to be casual cruising, on a fascinating ship, and promised to be most enjoyable.
ISLAND ESCAPE was built in 1982 for the Danish Company DFDS’s Scandinavian World Cruises, as a car cruise ferry from New York to Florida and back, and named SCANDINAVIA, at 26,748 tons. For those passengers who wanted to go to the Bahamas, they then had to transfer to smaller ‘feeder’ ships from Florida to their destination. Inevitably this caused delays and problems and soon DFDS moved the ship to their Copenhagen-Oslo service in December 1983, although this lasted only until January 1985. She was then sold on to Sundance Cruises as STARDANCER, until January 1990, when she was sold on to the Admiral Cruises group which in turn was absorbed into the Royal Caribbean group, and rebuilt as VIKING SERENADE as a true cruise ship. Finally, in early 2002 she was transferred to the newly created Island Cruises, which was set up by Royal Caribbean with the British company First Choice, and renamed ISLAND ESCAPE, and this was the ship that I joined.
At 40,132 gross tons, she can carry 1740 passengers in 771 cabins, with 10 passenger decks. Aqua and Bronze decks have cabins, with Coral Deck having the Guest Relations desk and open atrium area. Beside this is the entrance to the speciality Oasis Restaurant, offering dinner at £14.99 per person, with waiter service.
Diamond deck above has The Island Restaurant aft for casual dining, and more cabins, and Emerald deck above has The Ocean Theatre, Casino, Arcade (slot machines) and Sundowner pub, plus cabins. Flamingo deck 8 has the Café Brasil aft, a small Library, the Bounty Lounge and an off-set dance or entertainment area, with more cabins forward. Sun deck 10 aft has the Beachcomber buffet restaurant, which proved very popular, plus the open deck with pools, bars, and raised walkway above it. Above again is The Lookout, with its almost circular aspect, bar and small dance floor.
Casual cruising began with casual lunch, where we noticed lots of pork dishes on the menu, with a varied choice of starters, mains and desserts. The coffee was flavourless, but Café Brasil provided the answer for this, although at an extra cost. That evening casual dining continued in the main Island Restaurant, with the buffet food supplemented by waiter service for water and other non-alcoholic or alcoholic drinks. Because I had booked this cruise early, I had been given a free-drinks package. Departure from Palma was at 11 p.m. so we were all on deck for music and singing.
Ships seen: Island Escape, Costa Romantica, Baleares’ Abel Matutes, Baleares’ Visimar One, yacht carrier Artisgracht.
Wednesday 4th April 2012
Today we have a lovely calm day at sea, so time to explore the ship, enjoy the casual lunch (more pork dishes) , the Captain’s Chat in the Theatre with the Cruise Director, tea at 4 p.m., and to watch the ‘Biggest Splasher’ competition in the pool – rather them than me, as the water looked extremely cold. A Boat-Building competition was launched (their pun intended) beside the pool, to make something capable of carrying a 6 pack of canned drinks, from things found on the ship. Children had face painting to enjoy, and a yellow-breasted little bird flew around and above the ship, and I took a photo of him on the deck beside my steamer chair; such are the pleasures of being at sea.
That evening we found on Deck 9 forward stairs an interesting display of items, plus a John Maxtone-Graham diagram from one of his books, which included ARANDORA STAR, VISTAMAR and other interesting ships. The sea outside the ship was like a millpond.
Ships seen: M N Colibri
Thursday 5th April 2012
It was still very cold in my cabin, as the thermostat didn’t appear to be working and was permanently set at cold, but I obtained a second duvet eventually so all was cosy. I remembered some things from the Captain’s chat: that we were using only one of the ship’s two screws, going at an economic 17-18 knots, as we use about two tons of fuel an hour, and at $800 per heavy ton, this is important with an annual fuel bill of $2 million.
Today we called at Ajaccio, in sunny and warm weather, which was ideal for coffee on the waterside, followed by steamer chairs on deck for a lot of the day in port. Tea was enjoyed against a background of ballroom dancing music in the Bounty Lounge. We are now traversing the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia, and doing a comfortable 17.5 knots.
Dinner was enjoyable, with more ferry reminders in the shape of pork meatballs, and dining companions who had lived in Cape Town for many years, travelling there on ATHLONE CASTLE, EDINBURGH CASTLE and PENDENNIS CASTLE, so we had moments of nostalgia for Union-Castle Line and their lavender-hulled ships. The couple had recently returned from a 30 day cruise on MARCO POLO.
Ships seen: Mega Express, Girolata, Paglia Orba, Saremar’s Ichnusa
To be continued...
29 April 2012
Monday 2nd April 2012
Breakfast was available in what might have been the palace wine cellar, and then I became a tourist by getting a local bus west around the bay of Palma to a small place called Cala Mayor. I was looking for Edificio Delfin, at 279 Avenida Joan Miro, where my late parents-in-law had owned a small flat. I had located it on the internet (thank you Google) and I knew this place quite well many years ago; I also remember several other residents, including a young Paula Yates, who was at a local school, and her parents. It was a short visit but sad to see such an empty sandy beach. The two local hotels were being renovated and obviously not going to be ready for Easter, so I presume bookings must be low. Another bus took me towards the city again, but I soon decided to walk along the delightful promenade back towards the Cathedral to take a harbour tour. Yes, the little MARCO POLO was sailing again this year so I paid my Euros 12 and enjoyed a sunny trip around various parts of the bay to see the ferries and cruise ship.
I discovered another interesting local restaurant that evening, in a busy backstreet, and was sitting enjoying my meal when suddenly two huge doors opened opposite the restaurant. Goodness me, it was a church and another procession started right before my eyes! A catafalque appeared from around another corner, the silver wheel was turned and it did a neat right-angled turn, to come to a halt nearby. A robed person appeared with a tall step ladder, climbed up and flicked his cigarette lighter to light a long taper, and proceeded to light the candles around the top of the catafalque. One of his colleagues watched his progress, whilst flicking his own cigarette lighter to light his cigarette, and several others flicked their mobile phones open and made calls. The procession formed up, hundreds more hooded figures appeared from the church, the brake of the catafalque was removed, and the amazing procession disappeared from sight.
Ships seen: Island Escape, Super-Fast Galicia, Super-Fast Baleares, the yacht-carrier Artisgracht, private yachts belonging to Michael Schumacher and Mohammed Fayed, Salem, Marco Polo (harbour tour) and Harmony II.
To be continued...
26 April 2012
1st April 2012
Palma de Mallorca on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a delightful sight, as I pulled my suitcase along a shiny-stoned narrow street leading off a big square, where the crowds were gathering to listen to a local band tuning up. I checked in to my hotel whilst listening to the band music sounding even louder. Minutes later I stood at the hotel entrance and just yards away from me, approaching from my left, was the start of a huge procession – it was Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week in the Christian calendar, and I felt very privileged to be able to see the procession.
I had seen television pictures of the Holy Week processions in Southern Spain cities, but hadn’t realised that the churches and people of Mallorca also celebrated in their own way, and I was fortunate enough to have a close-up view. I was also fortunate to have checked in to the hotel when I did, as Police and crowd barriers would probably have stopped me reaching it otherwise.
Thousands of people were watching thousands of people in the procession which wound its way through wide and narrow streets of the city of Palma, taking probably three hours to pass any one point. It had started with a Cathedral Mass, and then priests and believers of all ages process through the streets, many of them in long pointed hoods; these represent some of the thirty brotherhoods of the city, many of them long-established and most with their own band or musical group playing a slow march tune to keep everyone in step, and playing their drums very loudly indeed. The bandsmen were in their brotherhood uniforms, looking very smart and colourful. Many in the procession or spectators carried palm or olive branches, which apparently had been consecrated earlier, some wore sackcloth and chains, and some carried overwhelming incense. It was an extraordinary, almost medieval, sight and mesmerising to watch and hear.
After almost two hours I was able to follow a small family along the side of the procession for a few yards, and emerge into open streets. I could then walk and find a local restaurant to have a meal and marvel at what I had seen. Even after that I could still hear the drumming and know that the procession was still circulating. I walked back towards my hotel, only stopping to take a photo of a brightly lit and decorated shop-window (Louis Vuitton) containing three very expensive handbags. My hotel was an old 15th century palace in another life, so it was good to get ‘home’ and enjoy the modern facilities it now offered.
(Note: I have since found a website showing a very short video of what I saw: http://www.teleweb-mallorca.com/en/paginas/025_semana_santa_en.html)
Ships seen: Island Escape’s funnel and superstructure just visible in the cruise terminal, newly arrived from her lay-up in Cadiz.
To be continued...
15 April 2012
I was thinking about the poor souls lost on TITANIC. It reminded me of my first Transatlantic crossing on the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 when of course the ship was mentioned. This is my diary note of the crossing from Southampton to New York, which started on 18th April 2002.
"TRANSATLANTIC on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2
I boarded the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 on Thursday 18th April 2002 for my very first visit to the United States of America. The transatlantic route from Southampton by sea had sounded the ideal way to arrive in the New World and so it proved to be.
QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 is seen as the ultimate in timeless classic voyaging these days, and I happily joined the other Full World Cruise, Segment and other Transatlantic passengers on board for the 5 p.m. sailing to New York. As she set off for the last part of her 2002 World Cruise, the sight of a beautiful rainbow over the receding Hampshire coast made a spectacular sight for many of us on deck in the late afternoon sunshine.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth launched QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 on 20th September 1967 for Cunard and after fitting out and various trials, the ship made her first commercial voyage on 22nd April 1969 from Southampton to the Canary Islands. She is now 70,327 gross tons on seven decks, with a length of 963 feet, a cruising speed of 28.5 knots, and a passenger capacity of 1,777.
After Lifeboat Drill and a pleasant sail down Southampton Water, drinks on the starboard side of the Queen’s Room provided a convivial atmosphere in which to meet old and new friends from the Steam Ship Historical Society of America (SSHSA).
This was the first crossing of the year to New York, and one of the maritime themes of the voyage was the sinking of the Cunard/White Star Line TITANIC during her Maiden Voyage, on 14th April 1912, ninety years ago.
On board was a maritime artist Mr Ken Marschall, whose life-long hobby/profession was all things connected with TITANIC. He had previously worked with Mr Robert Ballard (who had found the wreck) and on the recent TITANIC film. He himself had visited the wreck in a special craft, which involved a dive of two and a half hours for a journey of two and a half miles straight down. We admired his bravery!
Dining was in the Mauretania Restaurant, with a stunning bronze centrepiece of sea horses, or the Caronia Restaurant with its beautiful etched glass. A visit to the Queen’s Grill for lunch was also a great treat.
My outside cabin on Three Deck was spacious and comfortable, the bathroom (shower, no bath) spotless and it was hard to believe I was on board an older ship, except for the use of wood and the elegance of the furnishings throughout the ship, including a grand piano previously used on the QUEEN MARY.
There were many lecturers on board – the first one I went to hear was an author called Sarah Harrison. By great coincidence, my local Library Book-Reading Group was currently reading one of her books, ready for discussion, so it was a pleasure to listen to her and meet her in person afterwards.
There was a lunchtime get-together in the Crystal Lounge, a comfortable and attractive Bar on the port side of Upper Deck. The invitation was from the SSHSA New York Chapter run by Mr Thomas (Tom) Cassidy. Captain R W Warwick, Master of the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, and his wife, were introduced to the group, together with the American maritime author, traveller and lecturer Mr Theodore (Ted) W Scull, and the artist Mr Ken Marschall. It was also mentioned that someone from Union-Castle Line was present, so Mr Scull lifted up my hand in acknowledgement!
I was introduced to Captain and Mrs Warwick, as a former Purserette of Union-Castle Line and also as a Director of the re-launched company. We discussed the departure of the Union-Castle Line Centenary Voyage from Southampton in December 1999 when the ship’s whistle had been sounded, and an answering whistle had been sounded from QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 in her berth! I said that had been a memorable occasion. Captain Warwick said how delighted the Cunard Company had been to receive the thank you letter from the Managing Director of Union-Castle Line.
I attended a lecture by Mr Peter Boyd-Smith about TITANIC, which included fascinating information about Southampton. He mentioned that after the sinking, all United Kingdom Engineering Officers wore mourning mauve in their gold stripes, in honour of the Engineers lost on the ship. To illustrate it he showed a slide of “Union-Castle Badges of Rank”, which was a lovely touch I thought. I had used the same illustration in my own book “Union-Castle Line Purserette”.
On Monday 22nd April in the Yacht Club aft on Upper Deck I attended a Service for the Committal of Ashes to the Deep of the late William Farmer (1916 – 2001), previously a Chief Engineer on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2.
Mr Farmer’s widow and daughter were present. Mr Farmer had wanted his ashes committed in memory of those Engineers and others that lost their lives on the TITANIC on 14th April 1912.
Captain Warwick commenced the Service by saying that we were thirty miles south of the usual route across the Atlantic, because of the unusually southerly ice this year.
He said this was only the third time in his long career that he had ever needed to come so far south to avoid danger from icebergs.
The final hymn, ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’, had the lines “O hear us when we cry to thee, For those in peril on the sea” at the end of each verse, which I consider a fitting reminder of the power of nature and the sea.
Another lecture in the Grand Lounge was in fact a discussion between Captain Warwick and the artist Mr Ken Marschall, who had both descended to the wreck of TITANIC in October last year and again the audience was impressed by their bravery in travelling to such depths.
I had one breakfast in the Lido restaurant aft on Quarter Deck, which provided delicious food and was a fascinating place to sit and enjoy watching the ocean.
A lecture by Mr Ted Scull on New York was excellent, especially to someone who was very excited at the thought of arriving there by sea on the wonderful QUEEN ELIZABETH 2! The Theatre is the ideal place for such a slide lecture, with comfortable seating and a good view for everyone.
One morning I was told that our speed was back to about 24 knots; previously we positively flew at about 27.8 knots to get clear of bad weather. I gather a sudden storm, rated as Force 11, came out of the North East and sent the ship into a list for two hours. Added to this was an overnight electrical storm, but as we were in the shelter of Newfoundland all should now be calmer, and my stomach was grateful. Thank goodness for a robust ship and superb British seamanship.
A birthday celebration for a senior Staten Island Ferry Captain, Captain Ed Squire, travelling home to New York, provided another happy time. The occasion was used to make a presentation to Captain Warwick of a painting of QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 by the British maritime artist Mr Robert Lloyd.
Captain Warwick had commissioned the picture himself, but was delighted to be presented with it by Mr Cassidy as a gift from the Steam Ship Historical Society of America.
Another picture proved just as memorable, for different reasons. Whilst Mr Ken Marschall had been on board, he had made a large pencil sketch of the two ships, QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and TITANIC, together as if at sea. This picture he generously offered up for auction, and a large sum of money was raised for the New York Firemen’s Fund, in remembrance of the tragic events of 11th September 2001.
My cabin television was switched on to the “View from the Bridge” at an incredibly early hour on 24th April, and I saw my first sight of the lights of America at 4.15 a.m.! I was soon up and on the Sun Deck with my fellow passengers to get the first view of New York soon after daybreak. That famous Manhattan skyline soon came into view, against a cloudless blue sky.
We went under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and cleared it nicely, although Mr Scull had warned us that many ship passengers think the famous red and black funnel (or stack, as the Americans say) will not get safely underneath! There was talk that the QUEEN MARY 2 funnel design allegedly had to be lowered to take account of this – better now than at the crunch!
We approached Staten Island and saw the famous Ferries plying back and forth between Battery Park and the Island. One of them, the JOHN F KENNEDY, blew its whistle to acknowledge their senior Captain on board the incoming liner as a passenger. QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 responded – what a heart-wrenching moment, for so many people on board.
We sailed past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, up the Hudson River and past the now deserted old Piers that previously saw the like of such ships as QUEEN ELIZABETH, QUEEN MARY, OLYMPIA, UNITED STATES, AMERICA and INDEPENDENCE. Mr Scull described all this for us as we approached our destination at Pier 90, aided by the tug MARGARET MORAN. I remembered that the world-renowned maritime author and collector Mr Frank Braynard was at one time Public Relations Director of the Moran Towing Company.
The docking pilot from the tug saw us safely into Pier 90 soon after 7 a.m., and I was soon to stand on American soil for the very first time.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable voyage in classic comfort with new friends on a wonderful ship, which is what sea travel is all about. Great Britain is an island nation, a maritime one, and we can all be grateful for having the opportunity to remember and enjoy our heritage."
Posted by U-Cdolly at 5:47 pm