Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cruise ships vs. Ocean liners

Since I'm sharing my vacation with you, I figured I'd explain a little about the differences in cruising between cruise ships and ocean liners, just in case you were seeing how much fun we're having and would like to book a cruise of your own.

There are more than two types of passenger ships but for cruising purposes you need only concern yourself with two of them. There are cruise ships and there are ocean liners and they are very different vessels. The first rule of thumb in differentiating is that cruise ships are a hull that's built around a hotel. Basically taking a land-based hotel and making it seaworthy. An ocean liner is a hull into which a hotel is fitted.

While both are basically floating hotels, ships like the Noordam and her sisters, Oosterdam, Westerdam, and Zuiderdam (Vista - class ships), Queen Mary 2, and Queen Elizabeth 2 are ocean liners. Most ships now plying the tourist trade routes however, are cruise ships. Big, boxy things that the esteemed writer and lecturer Bill Miller (who is also passenger aboard Noordam for this crossing and I had the delightful opportunity to meet the other day) calls "forgettable".

Ocean liners have a long, storied history, making their debut upon the high seas around the turn of the last century. They are, as I quote Mr. Miller once again, "the largest piece of moving machinery made by man." Noordam and her sisters are just the latest in a long line of ships who were built to make the North Atlantic crossing from Europe to the Americas. And that is the key fact about ocean liners, they are built to take the pounding of the North Atlantic through four seasons.

There is also a different culture aboard liners as opposed to cruise ships. Liners are still considered transportation, just as they were before the advent of passenger aircraft and the jet engine. Many people aboard Noordam, over a hundred by the way, are either staying aboard after we dock in NYC to move on to other destinations or were aboard when we embarked at Civitaveccia in Italy, leaving us in Spain or at Bermuda when we arrive. Mrs. F and I have come to believe that liners are the only way to return from a European vacation, which we did for the first time coming home from London aboard QM2 two years ago.

I won't get into the wonderful history of ocean liners, Mr. Miller does that far better than I in his 60 books on the subject, but I will make it easy for you. Ocean liners are a culture of sophisticated elegance. Cruise ships are party boats. Each has its place. The Mrs. and I have had a great time on the fourteen holidays we've taken on cruise ships since we were married. At this point in our lives though, you probably won't see us on another one. As I said, there is a different culture aboard liners.

Where a cruise ship has Caribbean bands and the canned background music is reggae, hip hop, and rock & roll, aboard a liner you're far more likely to see a string quartet or a big band, and the background is more Mozart than Bob Marley. A liner is more sedate, the crowd a bit older, and drinking and raucous partying is not the priority. Lord knows, the alcohol does flow, but you won't see people falling-down drunk. You won't see jeans and t-shirts at dinner, and it's the odd man who doesn't wear a jacket and tie to the dining room. Many people's downtime is rather spent in the library, attending lectures, or classes on one subject or another. I signed up for several master class lectures by Mr. Miller and the Mrs. is taking a series of cooking classes from some world-renkowned chef, broadening her already gourmet-caliber talents.

Refined elegance and liner culture is truly an amazing thing and the ghosts of the old liners now departed, the German Emperador, the Italian Rex, the French Normandie, the American United States, Lusitania and Mauritania the ships of the legendary British White Star Line (yes, even Titanic), and the original Queens, Mary and Elizabeth from Cunard stand guard over us as we make the crossing that was once the only way to get from Old World to New. Liners embrace the romance of the high seas and while to many, a ship is a ship, reading one of Mr. Miller's books will give you a new understanding of these leviathans of the world's oceans.

Liner vs. Cruise ship? Put me on an ocean liner any day. Once you're bitten by the bug, you'll see what I mean.