BY CAPTAIN GREYBEARD – JOHN HONEYWELL
Gone are the days of crossing the Atlantic by Cunard liner and returning by Concorde.
That was when the QE2 would take 5 days to steam from Southampton to New York and the supersonic jet would whisk passengers back to Heathrow in a mere three-and-a-half hours
Now QE2 lies in Dubai with an uncertain future, and the remaining Concordes can be seen only in museums – one of them, as it happens, at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.
QE2’s successor, Queen Mary 2, took eight days to cross, “pootling along” at a mere 18 knots according to Captain Chris Wells when I travelled on the ship’s first post-Remastering crossing in early July.
Usually, the ship turns round and heads for home on the same day. Passengers planning back-to-back two-way crossings have only a few hours to hit the shops on Fifth Avenue, or to see a few sights.
Others might take a couple of days to visit the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and maybe a Broadway show before flying back to the UK.
This time, a substantial number took advantage of the fact that the ship was taking a five-day Fourth of July cruise to Halifax and Boston before returning to New York and sailing home to England.
Some stayed on board throughout. For others, a leading UK cruise agent had been particularly successful in packaging hotel stays with the (almost) back-to-back crossings.
Passengers that chose the option found themselves travelling with Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Corporation, who bought Cunard in 1998.
Travelling with his British-born wife, Madeleine, he was making his first Transatlantic crossing since he arrived in the United States in 1954 as a five-year-old on board the Cunard liner Mauretania.
Were it not for Micky’s vision – and investment – there would never have been a Queen Mary 2. He decided to make the money available to build the ship, which was completed in 2004. Memorably, he told lead designer Stephen Payne that he had better make sure the plans were right, because he would never get a second chance.
Rison’s first task on arriving in Southampton was to chair a Carnival board meeting. He then travelled to Almere, in the Netherlands, where he officially opened the Arison Maritime Centre, which has been built to train crew throughout the Carnival Corporation, and named in honour of his father Ted, who founded the company.
Frank del Rio is not a man to let the water stagnate between his toes. On board the ship he has branded “the most luxurious in the world” he pronounced that he is already making plans to send other vessels from Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings to Cuba.
“It’s literally a case of waiting for the phone to ring to give the final, final approval,” he told a press briefing on the inaugural sailing of Regent Seven Seas Explorer.
First into Havana, before the end of this year, could be Oceania’s Regatta, sister to Fathom’s Adonia – already sailing there every other week for rivals Carnival Corporation. The larger Marina could follow in 2017 and eventually the island will feature in several itineraries from Florida to the Caribbean, and on Panama Canal itineraries.
Del Rio made an emotional return to Cuba last year – his family left in 1961, when he was seven years old. Opponents of the Castro regime, they escaped to Jamaica before emigrating to Connecticut, and later moving to Miami.
His future plans for Regent could involve ports on the opposite side of the world from Cuba. He dropped heavy hints that after Explorer’s as-yet-unnamed sister is launched in 2020, the Chinese market might have developed sufficiently to entertain one of his luxury vessels.
“The fuel for growth in cruise has always been the elderly,” he said. “They have the time and they have the wealth. The question in China is, will the elderly take up cruising as couples, after they have been with their families.”