Eric_W's Reviews > Crossing and Cruising: From the Golden Era of Ocean Liners to the Luxury Cruise Ships of Today

Crossing and Cruising by John Maxtone-Graham
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Feb 01, 15

bookshelves: nautical-non-fiction

Imagine having a job traveling around the world on cruise ships and ocean liners and then writing about the experience. Surely that’s dying and going to heaven — assuming each ship has a well-stocked library, of course. That’s basically what Maxtone-Graham does. I had the good fortune last fall to stay at a small hotel next to Miami Dade Community College for the Miami Book Fair. The college is located a stone’s throw from the Port of Miami, where the cruise ships dock. What glorious ships. A cruise around the harbor brought us close to seven of them that happened to be in port that weekend. Astonishingly, the newer ships, one of which was the largest in the world, dwarfed the S.S. Norway, formerly the France, a liner built several decades ago and at the time the largest and most prestigious.. Carnival Lines really created the cruise industry in 1972 when it purchased an older Canadian Pacific liner and converted it to Caribbean travel. Soon, for reasons Maxtone-Graham delineates, the company was immensely profitable and was buying and building all sorts of new ships. One amusing anecdote from Japan reveals that country’s rigid and paranoiac trade laws. The S.S. Vaal was in dry-dock being converted to the Festivale. From its previous trip it had seven tons of first-rate Argentinean beef aboard that Carnival offered to donate to the local poor. Japan’s strict import restrictions forbad the entry of any foreign beef into the country, so that was out. They were unable to dump it into the harbor because that might be polluting, so the company was forced to seal it up in large steel canisters and then dump it into the ocean for the sharks once the retrofit was completed.

All the early conversions were of W.N.A. ships (built for the Winter in the North Atlantic) and were extremely well built, with reliable engines. They will last decades more. The newer vessels all have a much boxier look that has a tendency to catch the wind. One ship plucked out several bollards from the Miami pier there was so much wind pressure. Carnival’s director has a background in ship building and engineering, so he can speak the language of the ship builders — a handy ability. The mini cruise ship is making a resurgence although the newer ones resemble a scaled down version of their larger sisters rather than the yachtlike appearance of the original Polaris Stella. They cater to a more affluent and academic crowd that requires less external stimulation and entertainment. Originally these smaller ships thrived in the Mediterranean cruise business, until the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cast such a pall over the business that they couldn’t give cabins away. The larger Caribbean ships spend almost as much time in port as at sea, providing a continual opportunity for passengers to shop.

The Normandie, despite her short life – she burned at a New York pier in 1942 – remains the ship with the most mystique, perhaps because she never lived to the end of her days. Her design was clearly beautiful: three (one fake) rakish funnels seemingly planted on the ship unlike previous ship designs that had rigid funnels held in place with ungraceful guy wires and swept back bridges (although they were later replaced when they proved unpractical). She had no sister ship; indeed, the concept was foreign to French shipbuilders and no equivalent phrase existed in the French language. Each Frenchbuilt liner was unique. She had long, graceful staircases that connected multi-level dining rooms with enormous multi-decked ceilings that created a ballroom effect for the black- or white-tuxedoed passengers. (I would have eaten in my cabin – the thought of having to dress for dinner is positively loathsome.)

We have detailed descriptions of the Normandie from a series of preserved letters sent by Everett Moore to his family. He apparently did not socialize with the other passengers, much to the author’s consternation, but to my complete understanding. After all, why would anyone ever want to stand around over coffee or whatever, making small talk, when one can sit in the library overlooking the ocean with a stack of books.

One of Maxwell’s most interesting chapters relates his experiences accompanying the delivery of some new ships to their new owners. In one case, he and his wife were the sole passengers on a huge new cruise ship. What a deal!
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message 1: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Excellent review! Well done.


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