19 December 2013

Cruising into summer

When I was eighteen (rather a long time ago!), I sailed to Sydney on the SS Oriana – in those days, sailing was cheaper than flying.

At almost 42,000 tons and 245 metres long, the Oriana was one of the bigger cruise ships of the time and was probably considered quite luxurious but the ship’s stabilisers broke down once we got out into the Tasman Sea, there was a huge storm and I was seasick all the way to Sydney. Needless to say, more cruises are not on my bucket list!

Compared to today’s cruise ships, the Oriana was tiny – compared, for example, to the Voyager of the Seas, a recent visitor to Auckland. At 138,000 tons and 310 metres long, Voyager is the 16th largest cruise ship in the world. She’s just one of a fleet of 23 ships operated by Royal Caribbean International, the company that operates five of the ten biggest cruise ships, including the world’s largest two, the Allure of the Seas and the Oasis of the Seas. Their smaller sister ship, the Radiance of the Seas, is due in to Auckland in early January.

Sun Princess

Auckland is a veritable Mecca for cruise ships, especially though not exclusively during the summer months. The most frequent visitors are the ships operated by Princess Cruises: Sun Princess, Sea Princess, Dawn Princess, Sapphire Princess, Diamond Princess and Pacific Princess – those last two will call in to Auckland during February next year.

According to its website, Princess Cruises has grown from very modest beginnings in 1965, when they had a single ship cruising to Mexico, to become one of the world’s foremost cruise lines. Its fleet of eighteen ships carries over a million passengers every year to more worldwide destinations than any other cruise-ship company.

The 77,000 ton Sun Princess boasts 15 decks and 1998 berths, with 10 separate places to eat as well as 24-hour room service. I rather liked the sound of the ‘Movies under the Stars’ poolside screen!

Sea Princess

The Sea Princess has the same passenger capacity as her sunny sister, and very similar features. One that sounds particularly interesting is The Sanctuary, ‘a serene haven just for adults’. Her accommodation includes 1008 cabins, of which 6 are suites and 32 are mini-suites, complete with private balconies. All 38 are bigger than my apartment! One interesting snippet about this ship – when she rejoined the Princess fleet in 2005, she was christened by Joanna Lumley.

Dawn Princess

The Dawn Princess also had fun christeners, the original cast of ‘The Love Boat’! She’s about the same tonnage and length as her sisters, with similar features. Four hundred and ten of her 999 cabins have private balconies – gone are the days of four bunk beds in a room below water level, like mine on the Oriana all those years ago!

Sapphire Princess

I took this photo of the Sapphire Princess some years ago (it seems my fascination with cruise ships is not as recent as I thought!). At almost 116,000 tons and with 1337 cabins, this princess is bigger than those previously mentioned. Her features include 8 whirlpool spas, a lawn court for golf putting and lawn games, a wedding chapel, a casino and an art gallery – strange bedfellows!

Moving on from the Princess cruise ships, we come to the Celebrity Cruise Line. The names of all eleven of their ship start with the word celebrity, hence the name of this ship, the Celebrity Solstice. With her blue-glass upper decks, this cruise liner looks more like an enormous floating hotel than a ship. She's 1033 feet long, has 19 decks, and houses 2850 passengers and 1500 crew. She is the 25th-equal-biggest cruise ship in the world and she is very impressive – but I still wouldn’t want to sail on her.

Celebrity Solstice

Next up is the Italian cruise line Costa Cruises, which was actually established back in 1854 for the transport of olive oil and fabrics between Genoa and Sardinia. Following the Second World War, Costa recognised the economic potential of the growing demand for passenger ships and the influx of European emigrants to the USA so moved into passenger transportation. It was a wise move as Costa is now Europe’s number one cruise line and Italy’s largest travel group.

One of a fleet of 14 cruise ships, the Costa Romantica sounds very luxurious: her public rooms are decorated with rare woods, Carrara marble, and millions of dollars worth of original artworks. Her decks are named after well-known European cities: Monte Carlo, Madrid, Vienna, etc. 

Costa Romantica

Last but by no means least in today’s cruise line up is Auckland’s most recent visitor, the Holland America Line’s Oosterdam. Holland America ships have been circumnavigating the globe for over 140 years and ms Oosterdam is one of their current fleet of 15. She is 936 feet long, weighs in at more than 82,000 tons, has a passenger capacity of 1916, and was christened back in 2003 by HRH Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. That black slit up her middle is actually the lift area, a necessity for passengers who have 11 decks of facilities to explore!


I wasn’t the only person at Queen’s Wharf to watch the Oosterdam depart last Wednesday. There is something fascinating about these huge ships. Maybe it’s their size, maybe it’s the wonderful sound of those three blasts of their horns that signal departure, maybe it’s just the sense of romance that comes from sailing off into the sunset.