The legendary Royal Viking Sky, seen here after her lengthening in 1982

Today, there are a handful of sybaritic, top end cruise lines that promise their guests the sun, the moon, and the stars on a golden platter. Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream and Silversea come most readily to mind.

All of the above are absolutely high end, incredible experiences. But, while they all compete with one another for the cream of the trade, one thing that all of them have in common is their original source of inspiration.

That source being the legendary Royal Viking Line.

Founded by the suave, patrician Warren Titus in 1972, and with head offices quartered in San Francisco, the line pioneered an almost identical trio of superlative sister ships, designed to take top end cruising to a stratospheric level. The plan was simple, but sweeping; create an environment of casual, spectacular ease and luxury that embraced the best of everything, from food, cabins and service through to stunning, far reaching itineraries. Wrap all of this up in a trio of incredible, swan like vessels, and garnish with real Scandinavian hospitality and flair. Titus thus laid the corner stone for the line which, even today, evokes unashamed awe and nostalgia as the true progenitor of luxury cruising.

First out of the stocks was the Royal Viking Star, in the summer of 1972. She was followed by the Royal Viking Sky in the summer of 1973, and by the third ship- Royal Viking Sea- in December of 1973.

The actual physical appearance of these three vessels was nothing short of stunning. Always immaculate in shades of bridal white, each boasted a graceful flared bow, and fine flowing lines topped amidships by a single funnel, one that owed a lot of influence to the rival, much larger QE2.

The three sisters were all of around 21,500 tons as new, and all were delivered from the Wartsila shipyard in Finland. Designed for epic, long distance cruising, the three sisters carried only around 550 passengers each- 200 or so less than similarly sized vessels of the day. And, although balcony cabins were not yet then in vogue, the on board space and accommodation was, quite simply, spectacular for the size of the ships.

Their clientele revolved largely around wealthy retirees, often from the Pacific Coast of North America. These were people used to expecting- and demanding- the best of everything. On Royal Viking, they were indulged and cossetted in a way that had never been seen before, on ships that were intimate enough to have everything imaginable, and yet still small enough to slip into the most secluded, sought after ports in the world. From Papeete to Portofino, these spectacular, modern day Vikings became a familiar, much treasured sight. Within a short time, Royal Viking gained a stellar reputation as the only real way to cruise. All three ships were so popular that they often sold out many months in advance.

This led to some dramatic cosmetic surgery for the trio. Beginning with the Royal Viking Star in 1981, and then followed by Royal Viking Sky in 1982 and Royal Viking Sea in 1983, each ship was taken out of service, cut in half, and then joined together with a new, ninety three foot long new mid section.

These extensions had the effect of raising the gross tonnage of each ship to 28,000, and allowed the ships to cater for a new total of 750 passengers each. Despite this, the three sisters were still able to accommodate all passengers at one seating for dinner, an industry ‘first’ that set the tone for almost every luxury line that followed them.

If anything, the additional length made them more beautiful and yacht like than ever. Still venerated and utterly sophisticated, the three ships went back to their own series of fantastic voyages. But change was in the offing.

In 1984, Royal Viking Line was bought out by the legendary Knut Kloster, as part of his plan to make Norwegian Cruise Line an international conglomerate. Grand as it was, the plan was way too early, and beset with logistical and financial hurdles. Disenchanted, Warren Titus left the company in 1987. But, by that stage, the visionary Kloster was already envisaging a big new build for the fleet. The first, in fact, since 1973.

When she emerged in 1989, the 39,000 ton, 850 passenger Royal Viking Sun had the same general appearance as her smaller siblings, with the exception of her superstructure. This was now garlanded with rows of the newly in vogue balcony cabins, and topped by a shorter, more squat funnel. Big things were expected of this new Viking flagship when she first appeared.

Kloster also gifted the line a small, luxury mega yacht, the 10,000 ton, 1992 built Royal Viking Queen. With all outside suite accommodation for just 212 passengers, she was at that time the most spacious cruise ship afloat anywhere.

But this bullish expansion belied the fact that Kloster’s overblown operation was now in deep financial trouble. Simply put, it had grown too big, too soon. By 1994, the whole operation was sailing on a rising tide of red accountant’s ink.

By now, even the sybaritic Royal Viking Line had lost a great deal of its shine. Newer rivals such as Seabourn and Sea Goddess ate voraciously into its former core passenger base. After twenty two years, Royal Viking Line was finally wound down as a company in 1994.

But the impact of Royal Viking on high end cruising has been seismic. Many of the senior staff on their ships have now transferred to the likes of Silversea, Oceania, and even Crystal.

And it is testimony to the original strength, excellence and adaptability of their design, that all five original Royal Viking ships still remain in service today. The original trio in particular are still utterly unmistakable. Over time and tide, they have evolved into some of the most graceful and elegant vessels still sailing to this day.

Today, Royal Viking Sky survives as Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca, having there rejoined her sister ship, Black Watch, the one time Royal Viking Star. Royal Viking Sea, meanwhile, sails on as Phoenix Seeresien’s magnificent Albatross.

Fittingly, Royal Viking Sun graduated to Holland America Line, sailing for them to this day as their ‘Elegant Explorer’, the beloved Prinsendam. And, still sybaritic to this day, the former Royal Viking Queen remains in service as the elegant Star Legend, of Windstar cruises.

In Royal Viking, Warren Titus created far more than a salubrious brand. He created a legend, one echoed today in the service, cuisine and stance of every de luxe cruise ship in service across every ocean on the globe.

For that, and for the memories that this great institution created over the better part of two peerless decades of excellence and indolence, Warren Titus deserves to be ranked right up there with the likes of Albert Ballin. To this day, Royal Viking remains a byword for the best of everything in luxury cruising. And history will only further embellish that reputation over the years to come.




An Egyptair Airbus A320 on the ground

With intense sadness and sorrow for those most affected,  I sat horrified as the demise of Egyptair flight MS804 impacted like a small earthquake on Thursday morning.

The Airbus A320 was near the end of a routine flight from Paris to Cairo, when it dropped from 37,000 feet into the sea just off the Egyptian coast. Some fifty six passengers and ten crew- sixty six souls in all- were lost.

No one knows for certain yet just exactly what happened to make this plane drop like a stone from the usual cruising altitude to an early morning immolation in the Mediterranean. Not that it has stopped a tsunami of expectation from people trying to sound more informed and knowledgeable than they actually are. Inevitable, yet depressing.

Heartbreaking, too, for the huddled groups of friends and relatives ensconced in a Cairo airport hotel, waiting for news that, when it comes, can only ever be bad. Their suffering beggars any true comprehension. And all of this in the grip of a world wide media circus.

Obviously, people want answers. And, for those of us in the travel industry and market who spend large parts of our time flying through these self same areas, the sense of unease such an accident- if it was that- engenders, can be as poisonous as anything from a WW1 battlefield.

For me, it’s a little bit personal, too. I’ve been on five Egyptair flights over the past couple of years, from London out to Cairo, Luxor, and back again.

On all five journeys, I felt comfortable with the level of security, and actually enjoyed the flights. The on board hospitality was genuine and reassuring. And, though no flight is ever truly a joyride, I have endured far worse. No, Egyptair got me there and back, and with the minimum of pain. There was nothing alarming whatsoever about any of those journeys.

So, I feel quite deeply for the airline staff, many of whom will have had friends and relatives on the downed MS804. I feel for Egypt as a country, where their primary industry of tourism, on which so much depends, is already in the guillotine basket. Between  the reality of an internationally unpopular government at home, the looming horror that is Isis, and a basket case economy, there must seem to be little, if anything, to hope for right now. And then this crash.

It is, as many commentators have bruited, very strange indeed for something to go so catastrophically wrong when a plane is in the ‘cruise’ sector of the flight. Although about to commence descent for a final approach into Cairo, MS804 was still at its optimum cruising height when the fatal accident occurred.

Usually, the most dangerous moments for any flight occur on take off and landing. For a plane to just suddenly fall from the sky at the height MS804 was flying at is, indeed, as rare as it is horrifying.

I’m not getting into speculation on what might have happened yet, because I am simply not qualified to. I am no aviation expert. Possible terrorism of some kind will always be a lingering concern, unless (and until) it can be ruled out. The pilot seems to have been vastly experienced and, of the ten staff on board the plane, at least three of them had some kind of security role on board.

Obviously, incidents like this tend to make many of us rethink our plans. Do we really feel safe travelling at all? Maybe we would be better off rolling ourselves up into a ball, hedgehog style, and just sit out the remainder of our time in limbo, effectively safe but essentially shackled?

What I do know, however, is this.

All of us are on borrowed time, and few indeed know when the meter will run up empty. I also know that, so far as any of us are aware, we get one crack at this life. In short, this is not a dress rehearsal, people. It’s actually the main event.

And, while we can’t determine the quantity of our time here we can- up to a point- determine the quality.

There are forces at work in this world- and obviously the likes of Al Qaeda and Isis come to mind- who would love nothing more than to see what they regard as western barbarism reduced to a mass of cowed, terrified souls who collectively dare not travel outside of their own borders. You don’t have to be a Harvard graduate- or, for that matter,  an aviation security expert- to see that. It’s not rocket science, people.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I, for one, intend to keep on flying, sailing, travelling and, in general, living it up, for as long and as far as I possibly can. It’s actually minimal bravado really,  because I know that the risks of anything actually happening to me out there are so slight. Still, in the back of my mind I know the possibility is there.

I think of it as a kind of cognitive arthritis. It exists; there is nothing I can do about it, but it’s more annoying the painful. In short, I can live with it. Unlike a really well crafted Margarita, which I will never, ever, be able to live without.

Afraid to fly Egyptair again? Absolutely not. I am far more terrified of the possibility that Mariah Carey might actually somehow get a new recording contract.

Those loved, lost souls who perished so tragically yesterday were just ordinary people, going about their business. Maybe, like me, they carped and moaned at the security lines as they waited to go ‘ airside’ at Charles De Gaulle airport yesterday. Maybe, like me, they were genuinely thrilled at the prospect of boarding a flight for somewhere exotic. Maybe, like so many of us, they just wanted to get home to their loved ones. In so many ways, they were ‘us’, just as we are ‘them’.

I can think of no better way to honour those souls than to keep right on enjoying the highlights- and enduring the hassle- of modern air travel. Because, while you cannot always outrun the million to one chance of an accident, or always swerve the malignant intent of a handful of malevolent, murderous psychopaths, you can- quite literally- rise above them, and keep reaching for the things you need to see.

That’s life. That’s beautiful. Let’s see that it stays so. Over and out.



The MS Veendam docked on the front street of Hamilton, Bermuda

In a move sure to be welcomed by those preferring a more intimate style of cruise experience, Holland America Line has announced that their popular Veendam will make no less than six round trip cruises from Boston to Bermuda in 2017.

The trips leave Boston on May 13th and 20th, June 10th and 17th, and July 8th and 15th, respectively. Unlike the larger ships that berth for three days and two nights at the Kings Wharf complex on the north west corner of the island, the Veendam spends three full nights alongside in the city centre of Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda.

This gives her guests a considerable advantage in terms of central location and accessibility, and a full twenty four hours longer to enjoy the grace, tranquility and sheer beauty of Bermuda itself.

The 57,092 ton Veendam was built in 1996, and named by the actress, Debbie Reynolds. She carries some 1,350 passengers, served by a crew of 580. Though now one of the smaller ships in the Holland America portfolio, the Veendam is, in fact, the perfectly sized cruise ship for Bermuda voyages.

The Veendam will also offer some interesting summer cruises to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and other ports along the perennially popular coastline of Maritime Canada. These can be combined with one of the Bermuda cruises to make for one particularly exotic, fourteen night long adventure.

Combining the old world charm, excellent service, fine cuisine and elegance of the intimate Veendam with the sheer beauty and allure of Bermuda has proved to be something of a resurgent success for HAL. And, as an elegant counterpoint to the increasing number of mega ships unloading passengers at Kings Wharf, these intimate, indulgent cruises are sure to be just as popular as those offered over the three preceding seasons.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.


Not all trains are created equal…..

The Orient Express. Just say it. Intrigue. Mystery. Adventure and romance. And all wrapped up in what amounts to nothing less than a grand hotel on wheels; the Ritz hotel of the railways.

Courtiers and courtesans. Royalty and arms dealers. Spies, celebrities, and the simply idle rich. The Orient Express ferried them all across the continent in it’s heyday. It left far more than mere funnel smoke in it’s wake. For the first time ever, a train became a showcase, a stage, and a destination in it’s own right, all at the same time. It offered the comfort, service and fine cuisine of fist class on any of the great ocean liners. Often as not, the passengers on board had just checked out of the Savoy, or disembarked from the Mauretania or the Olympic.

Even today, the beautifully restored train still charms, dazzles and delights as it sets off on the thirty five hour, eleven hundred mile run that will see it cross no less than five frontiers, en route to the fantastic, floating sea city that is Venice. Fresh local fare is embarked with the passengers at Calais;  champagne comes aboard during the evening stop in Paris. As the passengers enjoy a sumptuous dinner in one of the three, Art Deco and Art Nouveau restaurant cars, arrangements are being made to pick up fresh croissants at Zurich in the early morning hours.

The train is a shimmering, ethereal presence. Like some kind of magic carpet ride, it threads its way through the Vosges, towards the Alps and the Dolomites. Seventeen  sumptuously appointed carriages, sheathed in the immaculate blue and white, brass festooned livery of the old Wagon-Lits company.

Inside, pools of soft lighting glint against etched Lalique panels. It reflects against exquisite wooden panelling that frames chairs, sofas and chaises- themselves decorated with exquisite marquetry- against a backdrop of popping champagne corks, upbeat piano melodies and sudden, swelling bursts of laughter.

White jacketed waiters perform an impressive ballet through the crowd, delivering cocktails in cut crystal glasses to people wearing jewels worth more than the debt of some small, third world country. Tuxedos and tiaras. The scent of impossibly heady perfume. Evening gowns and extravagant, outrageous head dresses.

The Orient Express is the gentle shudder of elegant glassware and exquisite cutlery on crisp white table cloths as the train rattles on through the night. The subtle, almost imperceptible swaying of rich. heavy drapes in the bar car that are caught only by the most astute. And the view from those big, brass framed windows as the greatest train in the world cuts a stunning swathe through the snow capped majesty of the Dolomites.

The Orient Express is the gentle humming of immaculate brass ceiling fans overhead as the great train vaults across some stunning bridge. The sudden, welcome wash of sunlight after you emerge from some long, deathly dark tunnel.

It’s the benign shades of Poirot and Mata Hari, hovering in the background as you linger over that champagne breakfast in your private compartment. History and hedonism. Excess and elegance, all packaged together in one swaggering, shimmering dream voyage across Europe. An adventure without a peer; an experience that stays with you long, long, after you actually leave it behind.

That’s what the Orient Express means to me. What’s your take?


The superlative Queen Mary 2 is about to go ‘under the knife’ in a German shipyard

It is now little under two weeks before Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 embarks on what is her most significant refurbishment since she entered service in January of 2004.

The last remaining ship offering a regular Transatlantic liner service, the QM2 will commence a three week long dry docking in Hamburg on May 27th, with work scheduled to be completed by June 21st.

In addition to giving the huge Cunarder an overall Art Deco feel and flavour redolent of the original Queen Mary of 1936, the marketability of the ship will be massively enhanced in two primary aspects of her hotel operation, namely the food and cabin services and choices offered on board. It all looks something like this;

In terms of accommodations, the Queen Mary 2 will receive some fifteen brand new single staterooms; a first for the ship. An additional thirty new Britannia Club balcony staterooms will be installed on the upper deck. All of the current existing Britannia Club balcony staterooms will be refurbished.

All other Britannia staterooms on board- both inside and outside- will be completely refurbished in a rolling programme, beginning in 2016 and extending through to 2017.

Queens Grill and Princess Grill suites will be completely refurbished, with their own exclusive art work framed by a predominantly Art Deco look, with blue and red accents complementing a cocoon of neutral backgrounds and contrasting timbers. New, bespoke carpeting will be heavily influenced by the original Queen Mary herself, now serving as a hotel and convention centre in Long Beach, California.

In terms of the dining operation on board Queen Mary 2, the Britannia Club restaurant will be redecorated and expanded to accommodate the new extra cabin occupants. There are complete redesigns for both the Queens Grill and the Princess Grill, with the stated intention of creating a dining experience that will be elevated to new levels.

A new Carinthia Lounge option will be unveiled, allowing passengers to enjoy light breakfast and lunch choices, as well as a dedicated patisserie counter.

And an option surely to be welcomed by many, a new restaurant- The Verandah- will be added to the ship. Reminiscent of the old Verandah Grills on the original Queens, this room will place a prime emphasis on serving up classic, platinum chip French cuisine. I expect this to be enormously popular.

Most of all, the central Kings Court buffet on Deck Seven will be redesigned to incorporate ‘speciality stations’ such as American Smokehouse and Pan Asian. There will also be significant upgrades in terms of the hot and cold buffets in the same area- a much needed remedy to this often confusing area.

These cumulative additions, enhancements and extensions to the Queen Mary 2 collectively represent the most profound and comprehensive refurbishment of the ship to date. The Queen Mary 2 will return to service on June 21st, with a ten night transatlantic crossing from Hamburg to New York, via Southampton.

No doubt, the heavily revamped Queen Mary 2 will be the subject of much media and travel industry scrutiny. It will be interesting to see how the new overall look of the great liner is received.

As always, stay tuned for updates.


There is a reason for lifeboat drills on board ship. This is it….

Regardless of which ship you might happen to be sailing on, lifeboat drills are even more dreaded than the dentist’s drill, and yet they are just as necessary. Safe to say, too, that they are frequently far more noisy.

Let’s be clear; nobody likes doing boat drill, and that includes both crew and passengers. When you’ve done it a hundred times, it seems like the most tortuous thing imaginable. Most people would rather have their nails pulled out one at a time, while listening to a Justin Bieber mega mix, than endure one more lifeboat drill.

How have we come to this?

Look at it from the point of view of a ship’s crew. Embarkation day is the busiest of the voyage. There are a million and one different things for everyone on the ship- from pursers to pot washers- that require immediate attention. Adding something as laborious, unloved and time consuming as conducting a lifeboat drill is seldom viewed as manna from Heaven.

The crew knows full well that the embarking passengers do not want to take part. They are on holiday, newly embarked on some glittery, shiny wonderland that will soon cast them away to new horizons. They board with the eagerness of puppies that want to explore everything, They want to see all the fun stuff, not partake in something than can sometimes seem interminable. In many cases, they simply do not understand the point of it.

When sailing from a foreign port, many of the newly embarked passengers are fresh from arrival and processing in some charming airport. They are frequently frazzled, tired and hot; most just want to get to their cabins to shower and change, or chill out over a first lunch in the sun. Lifeboat drill has no appeal whatsoever.

And the crew know the drill (so to speak); how the passengers simply talk over the top of any instructions that they are supposed to listen to. Often as not, they turn up carrying items of food and drink, despite being specifically told in advance not to do so. They ignore the drill; and sometimes screaming children often make it impossible to hear anything. It is anything but ideal.

For the passengers, lifeboat drill represents an abrupt brake on their first, fun day; an unpleasant slice of reality that brings their joyride shuddering to a temporary halt. Corridors and staircases become packed with people heading to and from cabins to grab lifebelts, before embarking on the struggle to find their proper lifeboat station. People get confused; children cry and, of course, the elderly and less infirm move so, so, slowly. None of this does anything positive for the blood pressure. And, at the conclusion of what seems like a string of endless, convoluted announcements, the entire process goes into a grinding, tortuous reverse.

Speaking of languages… if you are on one of the huge mega ships that carry several large groups of different nationalities, you will be required to listen as the instructions are repeated in French, Italian, German, et al. It will make you feel like contacting the European Court of Human Rights. But there it is.

Thinking of giving it all a miss, and just hiding out? Don’t go there. The crew do a full check of all names and cabin numbers and, if you don’t show up for the drill, you will be summoned to another session later on. Trying to take what seems the easy way out is ultimately counter productive. For everyone.

Best, then, to adapt an attitude that helps everyone get through the damned process as quickly and painlessly as possible. Try and be as attentive as practical in the surrounding hubbub; don’t add to it. Put your phone on silent or, better still, turn the damned thing off altogether.

If it’s one of the old style drills that still require you to bring your life jacket from your cabin, then please, please, don’t let the straps trail along the floor after you’ve removed it at the end of the drill. All it takes is one inattentive person to trip on those flailing straps, and there’s a real potential for a serious accident to take place. You don’t want to be travelling with the knowledge that your carelessness has crippled somebody, after all, do you?

Grit your teeth, and have patience with the slow moving, the poor, confused folks and yes, even the terminally stupid and inconsiderate ones. Even if you would prefer to see some of them in the Atlantic rather than at your dinner table. At boat drill, short fuses are in plentiful supply.

And, if you really need some truly sober perspective, remember why you are obliged to go to boat drill at all.

Visualise a giant ocean liner in the mid Atlantic, her stern pointing up at the sky like some great, accusing finger. 2200 people on board a ship with lifeboats for less than 1200, and even those filled with just over seven hundred souls. Remember the rest; catapulted into a pitiless, freezing ocean where the temperatures will kill you within minutes. And the nearest responsive rescue ship is still more than two hours’ away.

This might seem a stark, overly dramatic way to end a blog like this. But so many passengers today treat lifeboat drill with the same flippant, impatient lack of concern as those victims back in `1912. We all know how that one worked out.

The bottom line? Suck it up. It’s a necessary evil. And just remember that everybody else would rather be somewhere else, too. It’s not all about you.



The Norwegian Majesty was a familiar sight at Ordnance Island, Bermuda, for the better part of two decades

Renewing what has been a mutually beneficial arrangement for several years, Norwegian Cruise Line and the Bermuda government yesterday confirmed the cruise line’s weekly summer presence at the island for a further five years, from 2017-2022, according to a report on the local Bernews website (

While the company will still sail their large,contemporary mega ships from both Boston and New York to King’s Wharf in Bermuda, the real news here is that Norwegian will also guarantee a dozen additional calls a year at the port of St. Georges, on that north east corner of Bermuda. The original capital of Bermuda has been largely starved of cruise ship calls for several years- a consequence of both increasingly larger ships being deployed here, and the limitations imposed by it’s own, very narrow approach channel.

Speaking yesterday, Norwegian CEO, Frank Del Rio, implied that these calls may actually be made by the smaller ships of Oceania and Regent cruises, the two affiliate members of the group. Certainly, ships in excess of 50,000 tons cannot navigate the narrow channel entrance at St. Georges, and this would physically rule out any of the current Norwegian fleet from sailing through the channel, unless it were to be significantly widened. This is a process that would cause considerable environmental concern if it ever came to pass.

In any event, Del Rio is promising a return to the two and three night stays in St. Georges that were once a staple of the company. I have fond memories of just such cruises to Bermuda on board the old Norwegian Majesty (see photo at header), and these were immensely popular at the time.

Going even further, Del Rio has promised to finance construction of a pair of local, inter island ferries, designed to link the popular King’s Wharf area, where the mega ships dock, to the town of St. George as well. With much of its public transportation dependent on water ferries that sail around the island, this exercise should help boost the long overdue renaissance of Bermuda’s original capital quite considerably.

Also coming to St. George- and long overdue- is a new luxury hotel, built on the now vacant headland once occupied by the demolished Holiday Inn. This area has been desperately in need of a quality hotel for many years, if not decades.

It all adds to the feeling of renewed momentum for this hugely popular island and it’s ancient, very beautiful capital. And, after around a decade, it is also very gratifying to see Norwegian Cruise Line once more renewing links with the former capital.

Interesting times. Stay tuned for updates as they come through.

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