This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver looks at recent staffing announcements by Cunard and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Flotsam and Jetsam
Captain Paul Wright, a 26 year veteran of Cunard Line, has been appointed master of Queen Victoria, the company's newest ocean liner currently under construction in Venice that will enter service in December 2007, it was announced today.
I cannot claim to know Captain Wright well; however, I have cruised with him. During our cruise I often saw Captain Wright walking around the ship, laughing and joking with passengers. I also had a chance to shake his hand at the Captain's reception. While that is hardly enough interaction to draw any conclusions about the man, it is about all most passenger have nowadays.
On today's mega ships, there is much more to being a Master than just navigating and managing the ship. There are many social aspects, which in fairness some officers may well not feel particularly well equipped to deal with. I recall reading Harry Grattidge's biography "Captain of the Queens" (1956), former Commodore of the Cunard line. He said his most difficult duty onboard the original 'Queen Mary' on her way to and from New York or Southampton, was drawing up the guest list for the captain's dining table and his private parties.
The Captains Cocktail Party continues to be a tradition on many cruise ships. However, being a the cynic that I am, I would suggest that it is retained primarily to provide a photo opportunity for the guest to have their picture taken with the Captain, and pose for a formal portrait, that the cruise the line hopes you will purchase in one of the many overpriced prints available. The only cost to the cruise Line is a free glass of champagne per passenger which more often than not, ends up being a cheap sparkling wine.
Due to the shear number of passengers onboard some of the new mega-ships there are often two parties. This is the case with the Queen Mary 2 and it is hardly an intimate get together. In fact the line of waiting passengers, all dressed in their finery, will always snake well down the corridors from the Queens Room.
However, on less traditional ships the cocktail party is often done on a considerably smaller scale. Onboard RCI's 'Explorer of the Seas' in the summer of 2005, bound for the Caribbean, only about one hundred passengers, out of a possible 3800 attended. The cruise line was obviously expecting this as a small lounge was used for the occasion. It probably comes as no surprise that mass-market passengers are clearly not as 'into' dressing-up and tradition as Cunard's are.
Interestingly, on RCI's 'Voyager' class, the captain also addresses the masses from a bridge over the 'Royal Promenade' (an enclosed avenue located in the middle of the ship). It's hardly reminiscent of the Pope addressing the crowds in St. Peters Square; rather it is more like Mickey Mouse standing on a Carnival float in Disneyland's 'Main Street USA'. Much to my surprise the Captains speech included not only a 'welcome on board' message, it also contained a reference to their 'Code of Conduct' expected of passengers. In other words he was saying that the guests should behave themselves! How sad that social order has deteriorated so much that a Captain even has to mention it. Still, the big mega-ships are truly 'Cities at Sea' and include many of the problems that that can found in their land-based equivalents.
Anyway, back to Captain Wright: when he takes the Helm of the Queen Victoria in December 2007, he will have captained all three Queens. However, given that he has captained the most famous Ocean Liner in the world, the Queen Elizabeth 2, and the greatest ocean liner in modern times, the Queen Mary 2, being appointed the Master of the a mere 'cruise ship', the Queen Victoria could be viewed as a step down. After all, we all know that the Queen Vic will not be a real Ocean Liner as Cunard insists on calling her. However, I'm sure that Captain Wright will not view it in such a negative light. I do have one final word of advice for Captain Wright though; if he wants to be viewed as a 'real' Cunard Captain, he need to grow a big grey 'full set' beard and moustache as soon as possible.
Re: NCL Expands Culinary Team With Three New Corporate Chefs:
…These new additions to the food and beverage department follow the appointment of Alain Gruber, the new corporate chef for NCL America, who has led the recent introduction of new menus onboard Pride of Hawaii, Pride of America and Pride of Aloha.
…A new concept introduced in the buffet restaurants brings the chefs out of the galley and in front of guests, cooking fresh, prepared-to-order food at pasta, sushi, stir fry and carving stations.
Well, it seems as though Norwegian Cruise Line have written themselves yet another press release and I feel compelled to comment yet again. I am still seeing the occasion TravelPage.com 'Readers Review' which is less than complimentary about the standard and consistency of the food onboard NCL's 'NCL America' brand ships. Other passengers continue to complain about the difficulty pre-booking certain freestyle restaurants or the long lines encountered when too many passengers decide it is time for them to dine.
As for their 'new' concept of "cooking fresh food, prepared to order", did they really think we preferred the pre-prepared variety? I think if they consult the history books, they will find that 'fresh food' is a very old concept. However, I do appreciate that there are limitations, which can affect the quality of the meals, when serving two thousand-plus guests.
Celebrity and the Queen Mary 2 (Britannia Dining Room) are generally acknowledged to serve very good, if not excellent, food on a mass scale. While NCL America charges premium prices for their Hawaii itineraries, they face an added challenge in that the higher pay for their all-American crews cuts into their profit margins. Still, I would like to wish Mr. Gruber the best of luck and hope that he and the entire NCL America operation ends up being successful. Then NCL can focus on using NCL America's profits to return the 'SS United States' back into service. While I would like to see that happen, I have to admit that I will not be holding my breath!