My wife and I toured our first Cunard ship, the Caronia, in New York City on August 23rd. What follows is my impression of the cruise ship.
My wife and I toured Cunard's Caronia on Thursday, August 23rd, through the Steam Ship Historical Society. This is the first Cunard ship that we've been aboard, and the first ship built before 1990 that my wife has been aboard.
Particulars: At this point in time Cunard has but two ships: the QE2 and the Caronia. Since Cunard has done a wonderful and succinct job of detailing the Caronia's particulars I'll copy and paste them below:
Built by Swan Hunter
Shipbuilders, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1973 for Norwegian America Line
Registered: Great Britain
Cost: $40 million
Gross Tonnage: 24,492 tons
Length: 191 meters (627 feet)
Width: 25 meters (82 feet)
Draught: 8.25 meters (27
Cruising Speed: 20 knots (max)
Formerly Vistafjord, Cunard Line's 24,492-ton Caronia is a classic liner with an Old World charm and a hospitable British style that are reminiscent of Europe's finest hotels. She offers a luxurious way of discovering the world and is an excellent choice for travelers who are not attracted to the glitter and glitz of the newer crop of mega-ships.
Caronia is noted not only for a
relaxing atmosphere and excellent service, but also for the high ratio of repeat guests, with over 50 percent having cruised with Cunard.
Caronia underwent a $5 million
refurbishment in December 1999 to better identify the classic character of this grand liner and marry her with the proud 161-year heritage of Cunard. She was renamed and reflagged to Great Britain in a ceremony at Liverpool, England. The name Caronia has graced two prior Cunard liners, most recently the famous "Green Goddess" which was launched in 1949.
Basically, I agree with the sum-up. But what is Old World Charm? What I identify as charming about this vessel is the overall size of the ship, the comfort of the appointments in the sense that they seem not made to impress but made to feel comfortable within, the sense that areas are sectioned off to invite people to converse and mingle yet still accommodate those that wish to find there space to enjoy solitary activities. There is limited use of marble and other brightwork on this ship and more use of wood, wallpaper, and upscale appointments that make the ship feel comfortably upscale.
An interesting thing about this ship is although the ship is small, some of the public rooms, mostly on the veranda deck of the ship (which does not mean balconies in this case) are quite large. There is a single seating dining room, the Franconia Dining Room, all on one deck level, that is easily larger than any dining room on the Grand Princess. The single seating is at 7:30 PM, the dining room is done in light colors and medium greens, with a few crystal like sconces and chandeliers set about. There's plenty seats for two, and a good amount of space between tables, and plenty of windows. The windows on this ship are mostly tall
with a fairly narrow width - typical of ships of this vintage. It's fairly garden-like in its ambiance, and like most of the ship, brightwork is limited and strategically placed, making it very effective in its use. You know you are on a luxury ship due to the type of silverware used, china, presentation, dress of the wait staff. It is located midship on the upper deck, which is actually the same deck of entry of the ship.
The other very large room is the ballroom, located on the Veranda deck. The ballroom is easily, and considerably, larger than Celebrity's Rendezvous lounge or nightclubs of any of their ships, and has a very large, rectangular shaped, dance floor, which, I think, could accommodate 20 or so couples, even more. Another room that proves less is more. A wood paneled room, there are few colors used, rich burgundy for the bench seating and gold with a swirl pattern for the tub seats. The seating is set around the dance floor which is pretty much in the center of the room, towards the front. The center ceiling area (ceiling treatment
seems so much more interesting on the older ships than the newer ones) use, only in this area, small circular illumination with a subtle gold tinge in their middles. There are lamps used on the side wall posts between windows and sections, wonderfully warm lighting and colors make this room comfortable and not in the least bit ostentatious (no area of the Caronia is ostentatious). During our tour this room was used as a buffet for elegant tea, the glasses were arranged in a triangle shape, much in the way pool balls are racked. The rest of the presentation was just as elegant.
The other room that was large for the ship, and about the same size as an observation lounge on a Holland America Statendam class ship, but narrower, was the Garden Lounge. This room is circular and placed at the bow of the ship. What makes it wonderful is that it is literally behind the bow of the ship and the front of the room is at an incline due to the ship's shear. The room has a Garden feel to it, a lighter version of the treatment of the Restaurant. The sconces and chandeliers are similar to those in the restaurant, but not identical. There are lovely mosaics
and tiles on the table, and well cared for brass lamps that continue onto the next room. The room also has a fairly large oval shaped dance floor. There's also etched glass and plants. The seats are wide with padded armrests and covered with light green and light colored patterned fabrics. Their frames are white. This is a wonderfully relaxing room.
Nostalgia and memorabilia: the ship is fill with pictures, most of which are black and white, of rooms of previous Cunard ships, including the previous Caronia.
Other public areas: The casino is quite small, wood paneled and also with red suede walls in one area. The library has tufted seating and a gentleman's feel to it. It has lovely dark stained wood cabinet detailed with arches. There is a medium sized one level movie theater. There, of course, is no great lobby or atrium. The spa/indoor pool is on a lower deck. Alternate dining is in the upper level of the Picadilly Club. It is called Tivoli Dining and it is a quite upscale specialty dining that
fits less than 40 people. Pax can only dine once per cruise in this dining setting. Table side service, fine wine, personalized
entertainment, all of this is part of this specialty dining.
Staterooms: there is such a variety of staterooms in the Caronia. Most of them are a comfortable size. Most notable are the suites in the front of the ship, one of which has a verandah with French doors. The bathrooms are well stocked with plenty amenities. The duvets are a luxurious cream/peach color. The beds have a feather layer. There is plenty of storage in medium stained wood cabinets and closets. There are some very elaborate duplex suites. There are two suites with private verandahs. The lido area is mostly outside, the indoor area is right outside of the Ballroom
and it features nautical blue and white seating with wood flooring and roped poles. There is a small pool by the front of the aft decking. The Caronia has golf putting, shuffleboard and table tennis located right by her funnel.
Maintenance and Cleanliness: I'll give Cunard a B plus in this area. Some minor stains were evident in the dining room seats, the wood work in the Piccadilly Club's table was discolored and badly chipped in some areas, some of the outer deck areas could use mopping. Most of the upholstery and carpeting was well cared for, as well as the (minimal) brass areas of the ship. Staterooms were in very good shape.
How do you know it is a luxury ship? Presentation, passenger space ratio, the feeling of a lack of a hard sell, well dressed crew members, amenities in staterooms. I heard no announcements onboard the ship while touring her for 3 hours or so. If one is looking for some sort of ornate, over-the-top luxury on this ship you will not find it. It is a fairly understated ship, its luxury and quality does not try to scream it out to you. It's there, whispering.
Any impressions about Cunard? How was the lunch?
The crew seemed just as International on this cruise ship as they do on others. The waiters in the dining room were from many countries, the crew cleaning the room appeared to be International. The dining room crew was very professional, timed the meal well, very "European", somewhat Celebrity-like, in their approach to service. I can say the food did not stand out in terms of taste or presentation, although the silverware and china was of a higher quality than what's found on premium lines. However, I also think this lunch may not be typical of Cunard's presentation and food when it comes down to the real cruise, which I guess would be a rung higher in every respect. Also, the crew probably is more engaging on the cruise than they can be to those touring the ship.
Features in Caronia Missing from newer ships:
EXPANSIVE DECK SPACE that CONNECTS to INDOOR AREAS. The wonderful thing about the older ships is the connection of deck space to public areas. First they are not always so high up, so the feeling and spray of the ocean is a big part of the experience. There is a certain feeling about having a curved rear aft section with what seems like acres of teak area and just wide open space to enjoy onboard a vessel. There's a bit of an incline towards the most
aft point center of the Caronia as well adding even more charm.
WRAP AROUND PROMENADE DECK. Yes some of the newer ships have this
feature. Good. The wrap around on the Caronia is wide and much more solid feeling than on any new ship. The wood is in much larger planks than the more narrow planks used in other areas of the ship or used on new ships. Loungers are placed here and there, and when one gets to the front, which isn't too far on this small liner, it narrows and goes out into an open, curved area that overlooks the majestic bow of this liner. HAL's Statendam ships have nice promenades, but they don't touch this one.
DECK SPACE to INSIDE AREAS of the SHIP: There seemed to be so many ways to get into the ship from the deck and vice versa. You are not limited to what deck you are on and some inside areas, like the Piccadilly Club and the Lido Cafe lead out to terraces that overlook other decks. Wonderful terracing and overlooks as well.
SPIRAL STAIRCASES or STAIRCASES with TURNS. New ship layouts, I'm sorry, are outright boring. I'm not interested in ships that have perfect passenger flows and staircases that go to all decks and are consistently located. I just absolutely love the spiral staircases and staircases with turns found on the Caronia and on the Rembrant. I love finding all of the hidden little passageways that lead to particular areas. This is a ship, not a mall, not anything else, a real ship that has plenty of interesting little passageways that lead to a certain corridor with certain types of cabins, or may lead to a bathroom facility someplace, or often, lead us outdoors, to a wonderful piece of deck area, each deck
area is a vantage point to enjoy the vessel at sea, each is unique and has its own special feel of the shipboard experience. New ships put everything on top or the promenade deck, the Caronia gives one an option of viewing the ocean and enjoying different areas of deck space.
INSIDE PROMENADE: a strolling area with windows to one side, possibly made for those rough days at sea when going outside is prohibited. Here one finds public areas or shops on one side of the corridor. The Caronia has one between the library and the Garden lounge with art and tables set about for admiring and writing upon, and some shops for those that care to window shop, shop, or have shops opposite windows.
NARROW BAR AREAS with SURROUNDING LOUNGES by WINDOWS: plenty of seats for two or more around tables by the windows. This is the White Star Bar of the Caronia. This cherry paneled room feature old posters of White Star/Cunard, and intimate conversation areas. This is the cigar smoking lounge of the Caronia. The room's charm is that it does not go the width of the ship or is surrounded by anything open and part of an atrium olarger area. It feels more private.
SHEAR: the incline of the bow area, there's just something special about it.
FROM WITHOUT: viewing the exterior of the ship the bow is majestic, the superstructure's front is curved, she looks like she is moving while not at motion. The aft section is tiered, terraced, in wedding cake fashion. She looks well in her oceanliner dark blue hull, white superstructure, and red/orange Cunard funnel.
SENTIMENT: THE NEWER THE BETTER:
This fallacy irks me. Think of other creations. Are Woody Allen's, or any great director or writer's best pictures their newest ones? Are designers best works their latest ones? Are the best works of your favorite writer the latest one? Are the finest hotels the newest ones? Great works are a result of things coming together, to me the time that this happens is sometimes irrelevant, and sometimes it is relevant due to the dynamics that impact/influence/inspire the creation. There is absolutely no reason why the best ships should be newer. They are just newer. And even sometimes they are not, they are new versions of older series.
The Caronia was heavily refurbished in 1999, that means much of its upholstery and carpets are relatively new, even if the style of them are more traditional than what may be found on ships introduced in 1999. An old ship is not necessarily run down, dated, or undesirable, and, as I have listed above, may have some
design features that were popular at the time, that are still proven to be wonderful features in cruises of ANY era. Now or 50 years from now. What's good is good, what is popular is popular, what's proven is proven. Give me what is proven over what is hot and popular or trendy today, any day.
The Caronia is a fine, comfortable, charming ship that any ship lover should enjoy. If is not necessarily suitable cruising for those that go for new, glitzy, overdone and over contented modern cruise vessels, though I feel it can win many over who are willing to try it that feel that newer is better.