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Operator: Premier Cruisess
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1962 / 1995
Length / Tonnage: 760 / 38,170
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 581 / 1,156
Officers / Crew: Italian / International
Operating Area: Year-round lower Caribbean out of San Juan
Review by Mark H. Goldberg, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor
No one I know likes this ship.
This old liner was the TRANSVAAL CASTLE, the last passenger
ship built for the famed Union Castle mail run linking Britain
and South Africa and the only one-class express liner ever
conceived for that historic run. International politics played an
increasing role in the life of the service and after South Africa
pulled out of the British Commonwealth the government in
Pretoria put greater stock in the enlargement of a South African
merchant marine. In mid decade they "suggested" that Union Castle
transfer two passenger ships to South African flag SAFMARINE.
Union Castle, whose sole business by then was the South Africa
run, could not but comply and arranged to sell two ships to the
South Africans... This was one of them, the other was the
PRETORIA CASTLE...That ship was renamed S.A. ORANJE and this one
became S.A. VAAL. That done, both ships retained their Union
Castle crews and continued in operation exactly as before though
now wearing the white hulls of their new owners. By the mid 1970s
the fleet was down to five passenger liners plus the unattractive
tourist class cruiser REINA del MAR which made a very few line
voyages between Britain and South Africa. The mail route was
costing too much money to operate so Union Castle and Safmarine
agreed to close it down. Only one of the six ships ever traded
again...the S.A. VAAL. The larger flagship WINDSOR CASTLE found a
buyer in Greek John Latsis but he has employed her only as a
floating hotel in Saudi waters. The others all went for
scrap...some sooner than others.
Carnival Cruise Lines bought the S.A. VAAL in late 1977 or
early 1978 and sent her to Japan where and when $20 million could
buy you a conversion to a pretty decent, large cruise liner for
the American market.
She began cruising in October 1978 from Miami as FESTIVALE
and when superseded by new "Fun Ships" a few years later, she was
sent to work on 7 day cruises from San Juan. The winter of 1996
saw her turned over to Dolphin/Premier Cruise Lines on a bareboat
charter. That firm renamed her ISLAND BREEZE and painted her in
While there are MANY public rooms ranging from the
LARGE Copacabana Lounge where shows are done at night to
incredibly ugly and windowless Le Cabaret Night Club (of which
the ship's Chief Purser said during a pre maiden voyage walk
through in 1978 - "This room - OFF the ship" the ship's public
rooms were largely uninviting by day even when it was too cold to
spend much time on the ship's admittedly expansive open deck
areas. Only the casino and the adjoining cocktail lounge (ALSO
fitted with gaming equipment) drew crowds by day - The ship has a
cinema and a very small gym plus a very dark disco for late night
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served in two sittings in
the 700 seat Continental Dining Room. So, too is the midnight
buffet - but if you go down for a snack be prepared for an
employee to gruffly tell you where to sit. Dolphin/Premier Cruise Lines brochures tout both "white glove service" and award winning
food....I guess the gloves are rubber and the award winning
food...well I can't imagine what they are talking about, for on
none of my several cruises in Dolphin/Premier ships was the food
memorable...bland, yes, uninteresting yes, but good...no. I guess
it's all a matter of what you're used to and a case of
definition. Dolphin/Premier's excuse this time is that Carnival retained
the food and beverage services as well as the casino in this
"Alternate dining" if you can call the hot dogs, hamburgers
and other very cheap fare "served" topsides "dining" is available
in the 196 seat Lido Bar and Grill....since most passengers opt
to take lunch up there...I leave it to you to imagine the crush
of humanity when the ship is running with the 1,400 she can take.
Using the tried and true Miami cruise line formula
the ISLAND BREEZE has the usual cruise ship entertainment
options. I found nothing special in this department. Drinking and
gambling were VERY popular with many of the people on my sailing
but since I hardly ever play and I don't drink, I can't really
guide you there. Careful when you order drinks - I noticed drink
waiters and waitresses invariably answered drink orders with
libations in those tall souvenir hurricane glasses, so they could
charge and garner the requisite 15% gratuity - specify the size
of your drink when ordering, or prepare to pay about $6.00 per
That's what these shoe-box apperturances fitted with beds
on either side of a wash basin (in MOST categories) are called.
Small and unimaginatively fitted to downright UGLY, they are so
far below today's standard that I prefer not to comment further
than say: "Just wait till you see those late 1970's colored
placards bedecked with "deep thoughts" adorning cabin walls.
Protected under plastic, they are a real souvenir of the years of
the Ford administration, or the Brady Bunch.
From Montego Bay on 7 night cruises to the Panama
canal in winter and from May 2 night and 5 night cruises from New
No ship is for all passengers and this is one I did
not like. Accompanying us on this cruise was an eager first time
passenger who liked the cruise but shared my low opinion of the
aging vessel. I doubt that experienced cruise passengers will be
kindly disposed towards this vessel. My big ears overheard many,
many grumblings and screechy complaints. Let's be honest...the
New York market is tough and Doplhin Cruise Lines is very new
there. I'd say they have their work cut out for them. I don't
expect their winter cruises from Montego Bay to be much easier
for them either since they are priced so very low they will
undoubtedly attract people who expect a real cruise for that
I had much wanted to do a 5 night cruise on
the ISLAND BREEZE for the following reasons: I like ships. I like
sailing from New York. I like the itinerary. I liked the price.
Before sailing on my 5 night New England/Canada cruise in the
ISLAND BREEZE I stopped into five New York City travel agencies
to ask what they had heard about her. I introduced myself to them
as a travel writer. Not a single one of those agents had as much
as the brochure for those trips. The only agent who had heard of
her had been aboard and he gave her a vote of no confidence.
I had sailed in the ship from Cape Town to Southampton when she
was the S.A. VAAL. After she became the FESTIVALE...I was one of
her original group of Pursers. That was 18 years ago and she
still looks VERY much the same inside. HERE'S WHAT I LIKED about
my cruise in the now 35 year old twin screw turbine steamship
ISLAND BREEZE (that's what "t.s.s." before her name means):
- The ship's exterior appearance.
- She has a lot of deck space, though some of the best spots are
unusable because of crowding near the Lido Grill and the decibel
level of the otherwise competent Caribbean musicians).
- My Indonesian dining room waiter and a couple of other crew
- The ports. I really like Halifax and Portland.
- The cruise fare. Let's face it...it's cheap...and at a "two for
one" price at that.
What I DID NOT LIKE ABOUT the tss ISLAND BREEZE
- The decor...most of it is dark, dated, dingy and worn...a
couple of orange colored rooms are awful. I found all of it
frankly UGLY so if your surroundings are important to you as they
are to me.. you won't like this ship.
- The smell. I no longer smoke so my sense of smell has returned
and to me this old ship reeked of mold, mildew and stale tobacco.
I had failed to bring a nose clip so I was put off by it.
- My cabin. Overlooking covered promenade deck and called a
"suite" by the line, it was nothing more than a dark room with
two twin beds and one uncomfortable chair... An uglier room I can
not imagine, badly furnished and cheaply done. It reminded me of
Mr. Skinner's motel in an "I Love Lucy" episode. Never mind that
for two days the room was chilled as if by refrigeration...I also
didn't much like the occasional discharge of pellets of dirt from
the ceiling mounted air conditioning vent.
- The regimentation common to the budget lines which
understandably cater to the lowest common denominator, so if you
go, prepare to be told where to take your buffet plate and sit
among strangers who don't want to meet you (and you might not
want to meet them). I'm also puzzled by the constant muzak
everywhere on deck and in some interior public areas. An
unwillingness to deal with anything like a new idea or a concept
contrary to what they are trained to expect put me at odds with
some of the Pursers who have never learned that NO CREW MEMBER
HAS EVER WON AN ARGUMENT WITH A PASSENGER.
- The sense of crowding. Big as she is, the ship felt crowded.
One example - Unable to handle over 1,000 passengers at a lunch
buffet is the lido grill. There aren't enough tables or chairs
for the demand.
- The rate of exchange. When it all begins to go wrong, cut your
losses. I should have known better when boredom sent me to the
casino to play the slots. I put a $20 in an automatic change
machine and got $9.25 back. It took 20 minutes to recoup my $20
bill and another ten to get change from the cashier. It only took
6 minutes to lose the $20.00 in the machines.
- Never mind how cold the ship was for two whole days and nights.
In my midships Veranda Deck cabin I felt a continuous engine
vibration whenever we were underway.
If money is a MAJOR constraint and you have a yen to do a
cruise...this ship is a bargain but remember...you get what you
pay for and I found her dirty, smelly and so far below the
minimum standards you can get for about a hundred dollars more
per person, I cannot recommend this ship for any reason. But if
you are impressed by the line's rock bargain basement prices and
won't object to the company's operating style - you WON'T be
permitted to get your cabin key until you fork over either a cash
deposit or a credit card for an imprint - give her a try. You
aren't me so you might like her. I didn't.
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