Work on Romandseas’s spine tingling, almost totally land locked, full size replica of the ill fated Titanic is now expected to be completed by early 2019.
Work is proceeding at a stately rate of knots as the hull continues to grow at Sichuan, site of the vast Chinese theme park in which the recreated ocean liner will form a dazzling centrepiece once completed.
The replica of the ill fated White Star liner will feature some three hundred hotel rooms, based on the original first class cabins that were such a striking selling point of the original ship.
But, while much of the luxe and the high style of the ‘Floating Ritz’ will feature heavily in the recreation, it’s also heartening to know that some of the vessel’s original, gargantuan sinews will feature, plus several of the more intimate areas known to students of the disaster. In addition, some of the much less ostentatious second and third class areas of the ship will be recreated in painstaking detail.
Among these will be the bridge, complete with it’s wheelhouse and chart room. An officer’s cabin and a recreated Marconi wireless room will draw sometimes pitiless scrutiny from die hard purists.
In terms of second and third class, there will be recreations of cabins from both classes.
Mechanics may well be awed by the recreation of the giant reciprocating engines, as well as the forward, Number One boiler room of the Titanic.
The liner’s elaborate, highly ornate Turkish Baths down on G Deck will be featured in the recreation, as well as the first class gymnasium up on the boat deck. Here, John Jacob Astor famously whiled away time with his wife as the original ship sank, cutting open a life jacket with his pen knife to show her the contents.
For lovers of all that doomed, gilded luxury, recreations of the lavish, first class dining room, plus one of the sumptuous, B Deck parlour suites, as well as the monolithic Grand Staircase with its trio of lifts, will be more than enough to appeal to the inner Jack and Rose of almost anybody out there.
There’s been a bit of a quiet revolution going on among some of the cruise lines in the past few years. After years on end of new, looming floating tower blocks, each more staggering in scale than the last, there has been a subtle, yet definite return in some quarters to a more classic style of ocean liner look.
Don’t get me wrong- this is not some wild eyed rant against the new generation of floating resorts. I understand and appreciate the rationale that has brought them into being, and you cannot argue with their continuing success in sheer financial terms. Rows of balcony cabins are now de rigeur on modern ships and, as a lover of my own private space outside, it ill behoves me to start casting aesthetic aspersions.
And yet it’s nice to see a slow but steady return to a sense of ageless, elegant exterior styling. Take a look at the ship in the above illustration as a prime example.
Slated to enter service in 2019, the 60,000 ton Spirit of Discovery is the first of a brace of sister ships being built in Germany for Saga Cruises. That raked bow, sleek hull and single, proud funnel is a deliberate tribute to a pair of former Saga beauties of the past, the much lamented Saga Rose and Saga Ruby. And, with cool, classic interiors more reminiscent of the Art Deco era overlaid with elements of country club casual, these new ships are fine examples of how modern design can still accommodate contemporary tastes.
Of course, Disney Cruise Line can rightly take credit for this ‘back to the future’ look. Their quartet of large, retro vessels are a deliberate nod towards the likes of the old Queen Elizabeth and the Normandie. So much so that the company even went to the extent of building a virtual carbon copy of Southampton’s old, now long gone 1940’s Ocean Terminal to service them at their home port of Port Canaveral. And again, under multiple layers of ‘Mickey Modern’ embellishments, the decorative theme of all four ships is a distinctive Art Deco style.
Now, that same line has announced plans for a trio of even larger sister ships. Here’s hoping that this tremendous new trio adhere to the strong, hugely popular retro theme that has been hitherto so successful for them. With the new generation of screamingly advanced Virgin new builds looking like a trio of giant, floating steam irons, some calm, classic constructions are to be warmly welcomed.
Like some fantastic, improbable sea monster rising from the depths of a deathless legend, a familiar shape is fast assuming solid form in a Chinese shipyard. A name at once suffused with horror, fascination and sheer, fatal glamour.
Now firmly under way in a part of China’s Sichuan province, construction of the static, full scale replica of the ill fated juggernaut is expected to be completed by 2019. And, unlike the bombast fuelled hype that surrounded Australian business man Clive Palmer’s moribund attempt at recreating the ship, this Titanic is very much in the realms of the here, the now, and the oh-so-real.
While all Palmer managed to achieve was laying down dinner plates in restaurants at a series of very fancy press launches, the actual keel plates of the ‘Floating Ritz’ are rising again, day by day, in China. The latest illustrations show construction cracking on at a rate of knots perhaps unseen since the fateful night of April 14th, 1912, as the original ship surged towards her nemesis.
While the replica Titanic will be the centre attraction of a massive, man made theme park, the owners have been very astute in securing the services of a world renowned team of Titanic experts to give the project both credibility, depth and expertise; something that Clive Palmer singularly failed to do.
The current project cost has been estimated at around £105 million, and will include the recreation of three hundred first class cabins, to be sold as hotel rooms. The original lavish, opulent interiors will reappear, in the exact scale and stance as those of 1912. There is talk that at least one boiler room will be recreated down in the bowels of the hull, and also possibly the engine room.
There will inevitably be those who cry indignation at any attempt to recreate the central component of such a notorious event as the Titanic disaster. But this ship will not be making any attempt to sail. And yet, paradoxically, this land locked colossus will, indeed, take people on a voyage of discovery back into the past.
For, in terms of interest and fascination, the genie has long been out of the bottle in connection with the Titanic and her story.You only have to look at the phenomenal success of the Titanic quarter in her former builder’s yard at Belfast, to realise just what awe, fascination and sheer sense of wonder are carried by those seven, simple letters. Those who decry the Chinese project are entitled to their point of view, but they are very much swimming against the tide of human curiosity.
In truth, the fateful voyage of Titanic has never actually ended. She has always continued to sail in the minds of men, racing heedlessly across the calm, starlit Atlantic towards her chilling rendezvous near midnight. It was- and still is- a story so staggering and implausible that not even the combined talents of Gene Rodenberry, Steven King and Jules Verne could have conjured up anything so fantastic as the real life events of April 14th-15th, 1912.
It seems to me that this actual, physical reincarnation of the Titanic could act as a kind of emotional lightning rod for those who continue to be fascinated by the ship, one that complements the stellar achievements still being rolled out at Titanic Belfast. And yes, I would have preferred to see the replica displayed in state at the place of her birth, but that’s not how the dice has rolled.
So I expect this now rapidly looming replica to arouse awe, appalled horror, and outright admiration in different people, according to their temperaments. But the point is that the original Titanic herself aroused exactly the same sentiments in many, and some of those even long before her eventual, aborted maiden voyage.
I continue to watch this project with fascination, and I know that I am far from alone.
Over the years, the much maligned and romanticised Captain Smith of the Titanic has posthumously come across as something of a casual, urbane chancer; a man whose breezy manner of doing things was the ultimate catalyst for the worst maritime disaster of the time. But was he really so blase about commanding the largest moving object on the face of the planet?
Smith was the senior captain of the White Star Line. As commodore, his £1200 a year salary was more than double that of his nearest rival. And no wonder; the socially adept and much admired Smith was considered the most popular skipper on the Atlantic, both by passengers and crew alike. He seems to have been one of those genuinely unique men that could forge bonds with people from across the world.
He was also famously in thrall to modern, twentieth century technology. In the summer of 1907, when he brought the then brand new, 24,000 ton Adriatic into Southampton to begin her maiden voyage, he said this to the assembled press;
“I cannot conceive of any vital accident that would cause this ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that….”
But did subsequent events shake that complacent view? There is no record of how Smith reacted to the sinking of another White Star liner- the Republic- just two years after he made that fatuous pronouncement in Southampton. But it cannot have failed to have impacted on him.
It certainly impacted on the management at White Star, but not in a positive way; all of the passengers and crew of the slowly sinking Republic had been safely evacuated to other, nearby ships by the liner’s own lifeboats. And this fact prompted a seismic shift of perspective that would impact the Titanic and her captainjust as fatally as the iceberg itself.
Post Republic, the management chose to look on lifeboats in general as ferry boats that would simply convey passengers from a sinking ship to rescue vessels, summoned by the miraculous new wireless telegraphy. They completely disavowed the notion that those same lifeboats might have to serve as survival craft in themselves for everybody on board. This complacent, delusional self satisfaction was at least partly responsible for the fatal dearth of lifeboats on the Titanic on that fateful night in April, 1912.
As for Smith, his triumphant ascent to command of the stunning new Olympic in June of 1911 seemed inevitable. Now he stood on the bridge of a ship twice as large as the Adriatic; in fact, a ship that was bigger than anything else ever seen. And trouble was not long in following.
As the Olympic attempted to dock at her New York pier for the first time, the surge created by her propellers sucked in a harbour tug like a bobbing cork, before the whirling blades neatly severed it at the stern. All told, it took eighteen tugs a full hour to dock the new ‘marvel’ at the end of an otherwise triumphant maiden crossing. Did this incident send any alarm bells ringing in Smith’s ivory tower?
Just three months later, the Olympic began her stately progress down Southampton Water at the start of another crossing to New York. Proceeding on a parallel course on her starboard side was a Royal Navy cruiser, the HMS Hawke.
Somehow, the suction from the giant Olympic sucked in the relatively small cruiser, swinging her to starboard and instigating a collision that left the reeling cruiser’s bow resembling so much sodden cardboard.
As for the Olympic, the impact tore an eighty foot hole in her starboard side, right aft. By God’s good grace there were no casualties, but it did mean the abortion of the voyage, and a trip to Belfast for repairs that took a full six weeks.
At the time of the accident, Olympic was under the command of Captain Smith, though the local harbour pilot, George Bowyer, was in charge of handling the ship at the time. All the same this incident was by far the most serious that Smith had ever been involved in over his thirty seven year career. If that did not give him food for thought, it certainly should have done. Or did the fact that the Olympic survived with no loss of life merely deepen his faith in this new, more technologically advanced breed of super liner?
Whatever, the Olympic accident did nothing to dent White Star’s faith in it’s star commodore. April 1912 found him in command of the newer, slightly larger Titanic. Her sixteen day, round trip maiden voyage to New York and back was expected to be Smith’s last hurrah. Once done, he could look forward to a long, honourable retirement.
It all went pear shaped at the start. As the Titanic edged gingerly downstream from the White Star dock, the suction from her propellers pulled the smaller New York away from her pier. Mooring ropes on the old American liner snapped like cotton, and her stern swung out like a battering ram. Only the frantic action of stopping the engines on Titanic, and the perceptive intervention of a local tug, prevented a serious and embarrassing collision between the two ships.
Up on the bridge of the slowly proceeding Titanic, the same duo of Smith and Bowyer must have seen these events unfold with scarce concealed horror. It had almost been the Olympic and the Hawke all over again. And it did seem to have an impact on Smith.
That evening, after taking on more passengers at Cherbourg, Smith took the Titanic through a series of lazy ‘S’ turns. He continued this process all the way through the English Channel, and right up to the entrance to his last port of call at Queenstown, in Southern Ireland on the following lunch time.
What provoked this? It seems that this third mishap with an Olympic class liner in enclosed waters prompted some deep, residual concern in Smith. All three near disasters had occurred within the space of ten months, and all in plain sight of the self same captain.
In all, the speed and handling trials of the Olympic had lasted a scant two days. For the Titanic, they took up a mere eight hours. This, for the two biggest moving objects on the face of the planet; two ships that were expected to navigate both huge oceans and shallow, crowded waterways alike. Perhaps the truth of that had finally come home to Smith and, in making his series of lazy, meandering turns en route to Ireland, he was attempting to get a better sense of the intricacies of steering his awesome new command.
However, that concern seemed only to apply to enclosed waters. Once clear of Ireland and with only the open ocean in front of him, Smith reverted to a cavalier, increasingly upped rate of speed. Ultimately, he was doing exactly what he had done- and got away with- for thirty eight years. But this time, it would go horribly wrong.
The long odds finally caught up with this most highly regarded of captains just four nights later, when the Titanic ran pell mell into a vast, eighty mile region of floating ice. The rest is history. If only Smith’s belated concerns about sailing in harbour waters had extended to a more cautious approach to charging head long through ice filled waters, then things might have played out very differently on that starlit Sunday evening of April 14th, 1912.
Soon after noon on Wednesday, April 10th 1912, the ropes that had shackled the awesome bulk of RMS Titanic to her Southampton berth for a week were shrugged off like so many sodden strands, her trio of giant propellers kicked up the mud and sand of the River Itchen and, under the careful husbandry of six local tugs, the biggest moving object on the face of the planet began to inch gingerly forward to the cheers of a large crowd, gathered on the quayside.
Not everyone was glad to see her go. A contingent of six firemen had signed on to the ship, only to linger ashore over a last pint at The Grapes, a famous local dockside pub. By the time that they showed up to report for duty, the Titanic was already clear of the quay and, with the gangways down, the duty officer on board wasn’t taking their lateness as an excuse. That sudden excess thirst almost certainly saved their lives, but no one knew that then.
Those men watched in sullen silence as 46,000 plus tons of ocean liner, eleven decks high and almost nine hundred feet long, began her stately procession downstream. A wan springtime sun glinted against her quartet of towering, black and buff smokestacks as schools of whooping, shrieking sea birds wheeled and dived in her churning wake. The great siren on board boomed out an exultant, triple chimed salute to her home port, and Titanic began to pick up speed, her escorting tugs resembling so many panting puppies trying to rein back an agitated dinosaur.
Though the departure was intended to be low key, it would be full of high drama. Standing downstream, the wake from the Titanic snapped mooring ropes on the nearby steamer New York like so many cotton strands. The old American liner came loose, her stern looming out into the river until it came within mere feet of the startled, briefly stalled Titanic. As the crowds on shore gasped and strained their necks to see what looked like an imminent collision, one of the tugs got a rope on the New York. She was dragged back to her berth like some reluctant steer. With a sigh of relief almost audible from across the water, the Titanic resumed her stately progress downstream.
On board, the passengers had viewed the incident with a mixture of everything from amusement to outright horror. The ensuing delay while the New York was corralled and returned to the quay had cost the Titanic almost a full hour. Even as his ship skirted the Isle of Wight and dropped down past Ryde, Captain Smith was well aware that he would be late arriving in Cherbourg to pick up his passengers embarking on the continent. It couldn’t be helped; they would simply have to cool their heels until the Titanic made her delayed grand entrance into Cherbourg’s historic harbour.
Those were some very well heeled feet waiting for him, too. Among them was a substantial batch of platinum chip American corporate royalty; Astors, Guggenheims, Strausses, plus a whole supporting cast of railroad owners, property magnates, movie stars and professional sportsmen. There were art collectors, newspaper editors, and the simply rich. It was quite an illustrious roster in all; many of them had been regular passengers on the Olympic since her debut the previous summer. That giant ship- the first of the three great sister ships-had proved to be a marvellous advertisement for the newer, even more opulent Titanic. Bookings for both ships were very healthy right throughout that 1912 season.
This must have been a source of pride to both Captain Smith and White Star Chairman, Bruce Ismay, as the Titanic romped steadily across the sunlit English Channel. The sun shone; smoke from the first three smokestacks (the fourth one was a dummy fitted for aesthetic harmony) trailed back behind the ship towards home. On the aft mast, the White Star Line’s pennant fluttered gamely in the afternoon breeze.
Already, passengers were beginning to explore and exult in the ship that they were travelling on. In first class, afternoon tea was being served in the Verandah Cafe. Passengers in deck chairs took soup and sandwiches on the long promenade decks, bundled up in warm steamer blankets wrapped round them by solicitous stewards. People began making dinner reservations for the extra tariff, a la carte restaurant.
In the indoor squash court, the steady ‘thwack’ of ball against wall assumed a tempo that would be silenced only by the sudden inrush of surging, icy seawater some five nights later. The first passengers plunged boldly into the waters of the indoor pool nearby. Even braver souls surrendered themselves to the ministrations of trained masseuses in the garish menagerie of the Turkish Baths.
Others, more cerebral, lost themselves in a brand new book from the library, or wrote last, hasty letters home that could be sent ashore from Cherbourg and, later, Queenstown in Southern Ireland.
Late that afternoon, the coast of France emerged from the haze; a shimmering, low lying sliver that seemed to have a mirage like quality. But before almost anyone knew it, the Titanic arched a graceful turn, and came looming into the slowly darkening bay of Cherbourg. The anchor rattled down with a deafening crash right forward, and the huge liner swung skittishly at rest.
It was a brief break; that hours’ delay had helped nobody, and Captain Smith was anxious to begin his triumphant procession to the west, and the gala fire boat reception that awaited his glittering new command in New York. Two tenders- the Nomadic and the Traffic- came chugging out of the harbour towards the Titanic, like a pair of nervous courtiers paying homage to a new queen.
Aboard Nomadic were the first class passengers, and the mountain of luggage that always accompanied such people. As the Nomadic bumbled out into the bay, her irate passengers gasped in amazement at their first glimpse of the grand, stately Titanic, floodlit from bow to stern as the night took hold. They were ushered with apologies and assurances into the warm womb of the giant liner. A battalion of lift operators and bellboys stood ready at the adjacent trio of elevators to whisk these prized patrons off to their plush quarters, where the beds were freshly made and fresh flowers spilled out across almost every surface.
The second and third class passengers aboard the more plebian Traffic did not receive this kind of effusive, low key welcome. Instead, they and their much less substantial belongings were ushered through the steel shell doors of the hull, and into the belly of the brute. None the less, the same sense of barely disguised haste dominated the proceedings for all those embarking that evening.
As the two empty tenders backed away, the anchor was hauled up from the darkened briny. There was the clang and slamming of the shell doors along the liner’s hull. Once more, the great triple propellers- a full hundred tons of bronze in all- began to thresh up the waters around them.
The tender crews watched in awed silence as the floodlit Titanic swung through a graceful quarter circle, her quartet of great funnels standing like ramparts against the starlit sky. The deep, warm boom of the liner’s whistle echoed across the empty water like peals of slow, rolling thunder. And then, almost before they knew it, she had swept past them and disappeared beyond the horizon.
Disappeared, standing out for a noon arrival in Queenstown the following day, there to embark her last passengers. From there, it would be a stately romp across an agreeable, implausibly calm ocean for five days, before that first, glorious American landfall. Manhattan, and the promise of a freshly minted New York spring.
Several thousand miles to the west, a squat, glacial, salt water assassin waited patiently. Shrouded in darkness and black against the dark, still water, this potential killer- one of the truly deadly ‘great whites’ of the ocean- awaited it’s curtain call……
As part of a massive refurbishment project that will also include several new dining options, both Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will be dry docked to allow for considerable enhancements to their current passenger accommodation.
Some existing rooms will be replaced with an entirely new class of room, designated as Seabreeze Penthouse suites. They will be pretty much the same size as the current penthouse suites aboard both ships, but will come with an entirely new design.
Approximately forty to fifty suites will be added to each ship and, as well as featuring new touches, some will offer use of the first ever washer/dryers ever seen in rooms of this size, the new, expanded suites will also have the effect of lowering the current guest capacity on each ship, thereby increasing the already generous on board space ratio.
In the case of Crystal Symphony, the count on board will revert from a current 922 down to 848. For Crystal Serenity, the figures go from the current 1070 guest down to a svelte 980- just over half of the 1800 routinely carried on the similar sized former Cunard flagship, QE2.
In addition, Crystal will introduce unlimited, free internet across both ships, 24/, for the duration of each cruise.
In stealing an edge on the competition, Crystal will enhance and revitalise the dining options available aboard both ships with a whole range of new eateries. These will include:
The Crystal Dining Room on both ships will be rebranded as the Waterside Restaurant, offering open seating dining and featuring a range of classic dishes and modern, contemporary favourites.
Tastes will morph into Silk, a venue that offers casual breakfasts, lunches, and family styled dinners that will showcase many Chinese style favourites.
The Lido on both ships will be restyled and reorganised as The Marketplace, offering buffet style tapas and ceviche during the day, along with other casual fare. At night, one part of the venue will become a Brazilian styled steak house- a churascaria- where succulent cuts of meat will be served up on skewers.
Silk Road will go on both ships, but will be replaced by a new Nobu venue entitled Umi Uma. In a nice nod to Crystal’s twenty seven years’ heritage, the phrase actually translates to ‘Seahorse’, the company logo. Suite guests will be entitled to unlimited dining in here, with other guests being offered one free dinner per voyage.
Popular Crystal stalwart, Prego, will remain and, once again, suite guests will be able to avail themselves of unlimited dining here. The Vintage Room will also remain, but with a modified menu that will also feature a ‘lunch and lecture’ programme on sea days, featuring fewer courses than the evening menu, and all paired with appropriate wines and beers.
With both the Crystal siblings going to open seating for dinner, entertainment options throughout will be redefined to enhance the roster of evening choices, under the supervision of former Norwegian and Costa entertainment guru, Keith Cox.
Overall, this programme of retrenchment and refinement to both of these fabled ships must be regarded as the most comprehensive in their history, and something of a leap of faith for Crystal Cruises itself. With expanded dining, accommodation and entertainment options, plus free internet and a higher guest/crew space ration than ever, these ships- like fine wine and good music- just seem to get better with age.
Once clear of the port of Piraeus, the Celestyal Olympia cut an elegant swathe through Homer’s ancient, wine dark Aegean as we settled on our course for Mykonos. Lunch was being served, both at the upper deck buffet and in the main restaurant downstairs.
I opted to go alfresco, picking at some delicious souvlaki as the ship slipped neatly between a string of shimmering, arid looking islands flung at random across the sparkling emerald carpet of the Aegean. Sunlight danced on the water in the two swimming pools as the sound of on board bouzouki music caught the ears of seabirds wheeling in our wake. Warm breeze, ice cold ouzo- life felt good that late September afternoon.
All too soon, a familiar, fondly remembered shape stirred me from my daydream as it breasted the line of the horizon, filling our view as it spread across the sea. Low, rolling hills took on depth and definition as the sun began to dip, taking on a sharper aspect. Indistinct dots on a headland morphed into a quintet of shimmering, petrified white windmills.
Time to say ‘hello again’ to dear old Mykonos, the hedonistic queen of the Dodecanese.
Yes, Mykonos is expensive compared to many other Greek islands, and there are those who think that it is over rated. But for me, the island retains an inherent, ageless charm that no amount of tacky souvenir shops can erase. It’s a magical place, almost adrift in time and space.
The Celestyal Olympia docked at the new port of Tourlos, and I was amazed at just how much that port has developed now from just a small pier surrounded by arid hills, into more or less an extension of the main town itself. A chain of small, biscuit coloured beaches has been grafted onto the sea shore here, lined with a run of bars, shops and tavernas that now runs right along the waterfront.
As a result it’s now busier, more bustling and colourful than before, and the yacht marina near the pier is now blossoming into a beautiful, expansive place in its own right. But, inevitably, I found myself drawn back along that ancient, cobbled quayside, and back towards the old town centre.
In the winding streets, shop lights shone on white bordered crazy paving. Bouquets of flaming red and cherry plants overflowed from painted baskets that hung below balconies framed by bright, electric blue shutters. Tables and chairs spilled out across every conceivable space as evening revellers sought out a place to dine. On the crown of the hill where the windmills stand, crowds gathered to watch the ritual, world famous Mykonos sunset.
I would normally have joined them, but this time I chose to grab a veranda seat on the upper level of a bar overlooking Little Venice. From there, with an ice cold Mythos beer to hand, I watched spellbound as the vast, crimson ball of the sun sagged slowly into the Aegean like some flaming piece of performance theatre. In the background, I could hear Louis Armstrong’s La Vie En Rose playing. The sound of Satchmo’s soft, cool trumpet notes kissing the flaring purple Mykonos twilight was almost too good to be true. I hardly dared breathe, in case I shattered the moment forever.
It was the end of the season in Mykonos, and the night air somehow felt heavy with the feeling of the impending winter’s hibernation. White capped waves flailed and thrashed against the quayside on Little Venice like the heralds of the coming darkness. It felt beautifully mellow, nostalgic and sentimental all at once.
But Mykonos will awaken again. Come the spring, she will stir lazily and smile at the first, welcome rays of the returning springtime sun. Tourist haunts, closed against the bony stillness of winter, will reopen. Plants will bloom. Life will flood back like spring water. And I, too, will return.
I mused on this as I walked back to the ship. Floodlit from bow to stern, the Celestyal Olympia was a towering, majestic presence, at once welcoming and reassuring. As I walked back on board, the sound of an acoustic guitar caught my ears.
Later, I sat in the spectacular, twelfth level high Viking Crown lounge, drinking prosecco as the lights of Mykonos glanced against the window panes before fading from sight like so many dying fireflies. The gentle shudder of the ship brought me out of my reverie, and set me to thinking about the upcoming ports of call on the morrow.
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