This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver examines a variety of recent nautical related events.
Flotsam and Jetsam
It's been an interesting month for nautical events. First, we had David Blaine spending a week underwater in a goldfish bowl. This peculiar spectacle climaxed with Blain doing a bad impression of the legendary Houdini, and almost drowning himself on live television. I must admit that I though that Blaine was completely mad until I heard that he was paid nine million dollars for his week of work.
Second, we had 'Freedom of the Seas', the world's biggest cruise ship visiting both Southanpton and New York. The wave of publicity surrounding this impressive vessel has been like a media-tsunami. In the words of Royal Caribbean: Legendary Singer and Songwriter Barry Manilow is to Kick Off Summer Concert Series Onboard World's Largest Ship. Apparently, when it comes to ships and noses, 'size really does matter'.
Thirdly we had Wolfgang Peterson's remake of the 1972 movie 'Poseidon Adventure' hitting the big screen. His resume is well suited to the task as he directed 'Das Boat', the compelling 'U-Boat' (submarine) movie.
As most everyone knows, the main theme of the movie is that the 'Poseidon' capsizes. I've not seen the movie myself yet, but according to many critics' reviews, the movie itself does an impressive job of capsizing. Interestingly the ship in the original movie was clearly based on Cunard's 1934 'Queen Mary'. The new movie features a ship that in some ways resembles a futuristic 'Queen Mary 2'. Strangely enough though a publicity poster for the movie shows an up-turned P&O 'Arcadia'. This is hardly a good advertisement for P&O, although very few people would actually recognize her.
It's interesting to think how much the cruise Industry has changed since the original movie was made and today's remake. In 1972 the ocean liner business of transporting people around the globe had virtually died out due to competition form the aircraft. Yet cruising for recreational purposes was still in its infancy. Terms like 'mass market cruising', 'mega ship' and 'balcony suite' did not yet exist. The biggest operational ships at the time were the French Line's SS France and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 - both of which were less than half the gross tonnage of today's 'Freedom of the Seas'.
The following is from a recent Carnival press release about one of their ships currently under construction - "When the 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom debuts in Europe in March 2007 it will feature an interior design theme that takes guests on a journey through the centuries by decade. From ancient Babylonia to the heyday of disco, from the 19th-century Victorian era to the contemporary style of the 1990s, the public rooms of Carnival Freedom celebrate many periods in time".
Wow, from the sound of it Carnival is obviously not just satisfied with merely transporting millions of people through the Oceans of the world, now they want to transport them through time. Images of H G Wells time-machine and British Sci-fi series, Dr. Who, immediately spring to mind. Where else can you find a Babylon Palace (well, Babylon Casino actually) and a 1970's disco within a stones throw of each other?
It's easy to be critical of Carnival chief navel architect, Joe Farcus and his 'over-the-top' entertainment-architecture. If you have never seen an image of the inside of a Carnival ship, I'm afraid no words can easily explain how unique, provocative, risqué, or garish much of the décor is. His work makes Las Vegas glitz look understated.
In recent years Farcus has been allowed to expand his designs to the new Costa Ships, which now resemble a European version of the Carnival Cruise Line.
Rivals, Royal Caribbean's fleet of ships have their fair share of glitz and sparkle, too. Likewise, the Norwegian Cruise line's new ships are extremely colorful and vivid internally and externally. However, neither can compete with Carnivals 'sensory overload' approach to interior design.
However, Farcus is the most distinctive of contemporary navel architects and his work is instantly recognizable. Love or hate his work, it is certainly brave and challenging. It adds a welcome diversity to an increasingly homogeneous cruise market. In the future I believe that Farcus will be widely regarded as a genius, although that position is certainly up for debate amongst some of the cruising public today. Here's a suggestion, maybe he should just avoid the debate by traveling into the future using 'Carnival Freedom's' time-machine and collect the praise now.