QE2 OPENS AS HOTEL IN DUBAI ON APRIL 18TH

QE2
The Queen Elizabeth 2 in all of her seagoing glory

Although the ‘official’ opening is not until this coming October, an April 18th ‘soft opening’ of the former Cunard liner as a hotel is in the offing.

For now, only five of the liner’s thirteen dining and drinks venues will be open, and refurbished cabins- described by the owners as ‘small, but beautifully designed’ will be on offer at an initial rate of £133 per night, inclusive of breakfast.

Residents and visitors alike will be able to dine and drink in both the lustrous Queen’s Grill and the famous Golden Lion pub.

Long neglected since her decade long abdication to Dubai, the QE2 is now owned by PCFC Hotels, a company under the direct control of the Dubai government.

After so many false starts, busted schemes and often downright evasiveness from official quarters, it is heartening to see the cherished ocean liner finally getting a new start. And, while many will bemoan her presence in Dubai as opposed to, say, New York or Southampton, the fact is that we are where we are, both figuratively and literally.

It is damned nigh impossible to embellish the credentials of a ship for whom the word ‘legendary’ seems barely adequate. The QE2 crossed the Atlantic more than eight hundred times during her career. She completed a staggering twenty five full world cruises. The ship suffered groundings, fires, and more than one botched refit, and all while becoming a war heroine almost as an afterthought. She became an international superstar; a true prima donna that caused heads to turn and jaws to drop wherever she happened to sail. More than anything, she was true style in an age of relentless, encroaching hype.

Naturally, those of us who know and love her would still prefer to have her in her natural element; the sea. But that is not an option and, truth be told, we should be grateful that she is still with us at all.

There will be naysayers, purists, and sometimes outright snobs who will pour disdain on this entire project. Fair enough; everyone has ‘their’ own truth on what is appropriate and right for this very much larger than life ship. She affected a great many of us very deeply, and such feelings are no less real, valid or heartfelt than mine. I respect them, while respectfully disagreeing with them.

Because QE2 in Dubai is better than QE2 on the beach at Alang, waiting for the breaker’s torches. Doubt it? Remember those heartbreaking photos of poor, proud Norway being butchered on that beach. Look at the dingy, echoing, still dignified carcass of the SS. United States as she sits rusting away in her Philadelphia cocoon.

We can also be grateful that the original, crackpot schemes envisaged by Nakheel never came to pass. The glass funnel that would contain a penthouse; the plan to lengthen the ship by cutting her in half and inserting a midsection. Though frozen in place, QE2 and her marvellous, mesmerising contours remain the ultimate, elegant expression of classic ocean liner architecture.

Surely, all of us can be at least thankful for that. And yes, I will be visiting her, too.

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PULLMANTUR RETAINS MONARCH IN THE CARIBBEAN THROUGH 2019

MONARCH
The Monarch. Photo credit: Pullmantur Cruises

Spanish accented cruise operator, Pullmantur, will keep its 78,000 ton Monarch in the Caribbean for the whole of the 2019 season.

The ship, originally built as the Monarch of the Seas for Royal Caribbean International back in 1992, will continue to makes its customary, seven day cruise circuit all year round.

This allows for calls at Cartagena, Willemstad, Oranjestad, Kralendjik and Colon, in Panama. Each sailing allows for one full day at sea. Embarkation is possible from either Cartagena or Colon.

These cruises offer a great option for those wanting to see the best of the Netherland Antilles at a good value, drinks inclusive fare, at any time of year.

The Monarch had been making sailings in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean in recent years, including some cruises in the Norwegian Fjords., but this current deployment marks the second straight years that the popular ship will spend all year in tropical waters.

Meanwhile, sister ship, Sovereign, returns from Brazil in late March, 2019, to operate a brace of short, three night round trip cruises to Toulon and Sete, before she settles into her usual routine of week long summer cruises int he Western Mediterranen. This port intensive itinerary runs through to November 2019.

The third and final ship of this class still sails for Royal Caribbean International as the Majesty of the Seas. She currently sails from Port Canaveral on short, three and four day cruises to Key West and the Bahamas, with some occasional Cuba sailings thrown in for good measure. At one time also slated for transfer over to Pullmantur, that move now seems unlikely for at least the next couple of years.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

THE TITANIC AND THE SUPERNATURAL- AN ANNIVERSARY PIECE

TITANIC
The Titanic steaming down Southampton Water, at the start of the most infamous voyage in maritime history. This is one of the two famous photos of the outbound liner, taken off Cowes by the legendary Frank Beken

Back in 1898, a struggling author named Morgan Robertson committed an almost unbelievable fiction to print. In his book, entitled Futility, Robertson recounted the fictional tale of an enormous ocean liner, one far larger and more luxurious than anything actually in existence at the time.

Robertson loaded his fictional ship with rich and famous people, and then sent it across the North Atlantic. It carried lifeboats for only a fraction of the people that were on board. But that didn’t matter, for this ship was unsinkable. No one was worried.

But sink she did. On a cold night, Robertson’s ship strikes an iceberg, and goes down with a catastrophic loss of life.

Morgan Robertson called his fictional juggernaut the Titan….

The similarities with the all too real sinking of the Titanic some fourteen years later are thus stark and pretty obvious. Yet Robertson’s eerily predictive tale was only one of a series of bizarre, inexplicable happenings that still surround the Titanic like Atlantic fog. They still have the power to chill to this day.

“I don’t like this ship. I have a queer feeling about it.”

Those were words written in a letter to his sister by Henry Wilde, Chief Officer on board the Titanic. Wilde was especially transferred to the Titanic for her maiden voyage from her twin sister ship, the Olympic. And though Wilde had loved his time on the Olympic, his transfer to the Titanic left him feeling profoundly uneasy.

His fears proved all too justified. Henry Wilde would not survive the events of April 14th-15th, 1912.

In all, something like thirty-nine passengers cancelled their voyage on the Titanic, plagued by unfathomable premonitions of doom. One of them was Alfred Vanderbilt, the multi millionaire and renowned international playboy. Three years later, he would perish in the sinking of the Lusitania when she was torpedoed off Southern Ireland.

“On no account, cross a large body of water in April.”

That was the advice given at a seance to William Stead, the renowned English newspaper editor and spiritualist. Stead had received an invitation to speak at a Washington conference from US President, Howard Taft, and the offer proved too much to resist. So Stead duly ignored this apparent, other worldly warning. And he duly went down with the Titanic.

As the Titanic set out on her maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912, the wash generated by her huge propellers dragged a smaller liner, the SS. New York, away from her pier, and out into the river. The stern of the smaller ship loomed within a couple of feet of the rapidly stalled Titanic, and a collision was averted by a hairs’ breadth. Only later would people realise that this was as close to anything called ‘New York’ that Titanic would ever come.

“If you value your life, leave this ship.”

This was the advice from one passenger to all and sundry, in the wake of the near collision with the New York. He duly took his own advice to heart, and left the Titanic that same evening, when the liner loomed into Cherbourg to pick up passengers from the continent. No doubt many passengers were glad to see the back of their suddenly unhinged travelling companion. Perhaps his words came back to haunt them some five nights later, as the Titanic sagged helplessly into the glass calm Atlantic.

All of these stories are bizarre enough in their own right. But perhaps the strangest story of all occurred much later, some twenty years after the sinking.

On a calm, starry night in 1932, a small coal carrier was slicing across the still Atlantic. Up in the crow’s nest was a young lookout named William Reeves. It just happened to be his twentieth birthday. It was also exactly twenty years to the day since the Titanic disaster, and young William was acutely aware that they were sailing across exactly the same stretch of water where it had all happened.

Reeves began to feel an inexplicable, overwhelming fear. He panicked, and then turned and rang the alarm bell behind his head for no obvious reason. Just as he did, a giant iceberg emerged from the darkness, literally right in front of them. A collision was averted by a heartbeat,

The name of William Reeves’ ship was the SS. Titanian.

These are just a few of the eerie coincidences that continue to surround the Titanic, as that great, lost ship of dreams charges full speed ahead on her endless, spine chilling voyage across time and space. Hers is a story so bizarre and unbelievable that not even the combined talents of Jules Verne, Stephen King and Gene Roddenberry could have concocted anything as fantastic and incredible as the actual events that unfolded on that cold April night, so long ago.

More than one hundred years on, the myths and legends that continue to surround the Titanic-the Marilyn Monroe of ocean liners, if ever there was one-show no signs of fading away any time soon.

CARNIVAL UPS THE ANTE TO CUBA IN 2019

CP
The recently refurbished Carnival Paradise

Carnival Cruises has announced no less than twenty new, five day cruises from Tampa to Cuba aboard the recently refurbished Carnival Paradise for 2019.

Each of the new sailings will offer a Saturday departure, and many (though not all) will offer an overnight stay in Havana as a centrepiece. Other ports showcased by the new itineraries will include both Cozumel and/or Key West.

With the announcement of these new itineraries, Carnival is upping the number of Carnival Paradise sailings to Cuba to a total of thirty one in all.

Meanwhile, some seventeen sailings from Miami to Cuba will be offered during 2019 on board the Carnival Sensation, the sister ship of Carnival Paradise.

The line cites a very positive response to previous Cuba offerings as a prime reason for upping the ante. These two vessels, both products of the incredible 1990’s cruising boom. have been successfully updated to appeal to a more modern and demanding demographic.

At around 70,000 tons and with a capacity for around 2250 guest each, Carnival Paradise and Carnival Sensation offer some of the best deal cruises from Florida to the booming Cuba market.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.