There’s life in the old tub yet

//There’s life in the old tub yet

black_watch.jpgThe “increasing challenge” of keeping a 40-year-old cruise ship in tip-top condition – acceptable both to maritime safety officials and the standards expected by demanding passengers – may have driven Saga to announce the retirement of Saga Ruby. But there are plenty of other operators who find it worthwhile to keep older ships at sea, and enough passengers to fill them.
My first-ever cruise was in 1997, on Fred Olsen’s Black Watch (above), which even then was beginning to show her age. My own maiden voyage was cut short when, instead of sailing back to Dover, the ship limped into Valletta harbour in Malta for urgent repairs to the propulsion system, and millions have been spent on technical upgrades in the intervening years.
The ship, originally the Royal Viking Star, celebrated her 40th birthday last month and is still going strong. So is sister ship Boudicca, the former Royal Viking Sky, built a year later.
Managing director Mike Rodwell waxes lyrical about a “traditional, more intimate cruise holiday experience” on board ships with “a proud maritime heritage and a sense of grandeur from a bygone era” . . . but at what price?
He explains: “Whilst being traditional, the Fred Olsen fleet has benefitted from significant technical investment over the last six years including new main engines for both Black Watch and Boudicca, upgrades to other engineering services, new lifeboats and safety systems, and installation of the latest maritime technology.
“The ships are entered into dry dock every two years as part of the International Maritime Organisation’s Safety of Life At Sea regulations, allowing the opportunity to undertake large technical renovations and refurbishments.”
There’s also a rolling programme of upgrades in the ships’ public areas and cabins, and Rodwell adds: “The high levels of satisfaction recorded by both loyal and new guests show that the multi-million pound investment we have made has been worthwhile.”
discovery.jpgmv Discovery is another 40-year-old vessel – one of the original Princess ships used in the filming of TV’s The Love Boat. It too is showing signs of age, including a sliding glass roof over the swimming pool which no longer slides open.
Later this year, when Voyages of Discovery adds Voyager to its fleet, Discovery will put into dry dock for a major overhaul and I wrote recently that the company is still evaluating the work to be done.
Managing director Alan Murray said today: “We believe a business case exists for continued investment in our vessel Discovery. Our customers tell us that they love the classic feel to the vessel which is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on newer build ships. The planned multi-million pound refit for late 2012 will improve the onboard customer experience whilst maintaining the unique atmosphere that our passengers have come to love”
marcopolo.jpgEven older, the 1965-built Marco Polo sails alongside Ocean Countess – a mere 36 years old – for Cruise and Maritime Voyages.
Expressing regret at Saga Ruby’s retirement, director Richard Bastow said the older ships “are able to provide a more destination orientated cruising experience in that stylish and friendly ambience which is the antithesis of the modern resort ship concept.
“We have seen little evidence of any real decline in demand for what might be called a more traditional cruising holiday aboard what are now smaller or even niche vessels. It is ironic to remember that 20-30,000 grt vessels were considered big ships when they were constructed in the 1960s and ’70s.
“Operating a cruise ship of any size in today’s market is indeed a challenge with rising costs, swathes of new regulatory requirements and increasing passenger aspirations but with prudent housekeeping, careful planning and continued TLC we feel that our ‘older ladies’ will continue to provide a choice for the consumer, and a realistic alternative to the mega ships for some time to come.”
With confidence like that displayed by all three bosses, perhaps one of them will be prepared to take over the challenge of operating Saga Ruby. Or is that too much to hope for?

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:46+00:00 11 July 2012|Cruise Ships|1 Comment

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

One Comment

  1. John 11 July 2012 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Unfortunately i would never of considered Saga Ruby for a cruise but that’s not because she is old. Its great that some cruise line’s keep their older ships running smoothly. I have been on a few older ships and as long as they are maintained you can have a great time.

Leave A Comment