TILBURY, England — Finally someone has built a ship that puts passenger pleasure ahead of world records, corporate balance sheets or mega-glitz.
It's as if Royal Cruise Line's chairman, Pericles Panogopoulis, signed a blank check and ordered nothing but the best from top to bottom and stem to stern--marble, polished granite, hand-rubbed wood, gleaming brass, beveled mirrors, buttery leather and suede, and gold-rimmed bone china from Royal Doulton.
Royal's hands-on operating policy, attention to detail and almost obsessive concentration on what its passengers like and dislike has paid off gloriously in the new Crown Odyssey, as close to perfect as any vessel afloat. It carries about 1,000 passengers and is 40,000 gross registered tons, comfortably mid-size when measured against the giants.
During this smooth-as-silk shakedown cruise in early June, only five out of 526 cabins had any complaints of technical problems, a minor miracle for a first sailing.
Launched First Ship
Almost 25 years ago this San Francisco-based company launched its first ship, the 460-passenger Golden Odyssey, followed in 1982 by the 816-passenger Royal Odyssey (sold to Regency Cruises as of this November).
Much more familiar on the West Coast than in the East and Midwest (more than half the line's passengers come from California), Royal has always been characterized by the accessibility of its upper echelon management to passengers and travel agents with comments or complaints, and the speed with which they respond to correct any problems.
They have also been responsible for such innovations in the cruise industry as the "host program," in which older men are recruited to dance and socialize with older women traveling alone; a full range of low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol meals created in conjunction with the American Heart Assn., and the New Beginnings series of enrichment lectures, classes and fitness programs. The latter programs are designed for emotional and physical revitalization of people such as those adjusting to retirement, recently widowed or recovering from illness.
Design innovations on the Crown Odyssey include big glass bay windows in 60 cabins and suites on the Riviera deck with electrical-controlled shades; a lavish cinema with cushy suede armchair seats, Dolby sound and big-screen projection; automatic doors for easy deck access from the breakfast and lunch buffet area, and self-service ice dispensers built into the hallways.
Among the fresh technical features are a "father and son" engine system providing high fuel efficiency and minimal engine deterioration at running speeds that can vary from 8 to 22 knots; electronic security devices for the bridge and engine control room; a wide provisioning corridor below decks, nicknamed "Fifth Avenue," enabling the crew to move materials on electric forklifts from the huge loading bays, and an auxiliary power system to allow the ship in an emergency to continue sailing another two hours before having to stop.
Cabins are of generous size, with even the crew cabins as large as some of the new ship passenger cabins. The lowest-priced inside doubles have more than 150 square feet and two lower beds, built-in dresser, two chairs, two large closets, ceramic tile and marble bathroom with shower, and 110 and 220 outlets in cabins and bathrooms.
All 17 cabins in this category, priced from $182 to $250 double occupancy, per person a day, depending on the cruise, are triples (which sleep three people) or quads (which sleep four), so a budget-conscious traveler with like-minded friends could cut the basic price still further.
The top-of-the-line accommodations are penthouse apartments, each with its own wide veranda, individual decor themed to the suite's name, separate sitting room, dining area, French twin or parallel beds, marble bathroom with whirlpool tub, mini-refrigerators, TV sets with VCR and butler service.
Per diem rates this year in these 440-to-600-square-foot apartments range from $420 to $475 per person double. (A company spokesman said most of these luxury digs are booked through October.)
Among the other 16 design and price categories aboard are four well-planned cabins for the disabled, with good wheelchair access into the bathroom, a seat in the big open shower, tilt-down mirror and a location near elevators. These C2 category deluxe outside cabins average $325 to $385 per person double a day.
From top to bottom the Crown Odyssey shines. A stunning all-glass lounge forward on the top deck offers views on all four sides, plus a glass skylight over the dance floor for a look at the stars.
Five aft decks of teak provide ample sunbathing space; on one a lunchtime grill sizzles not only hamburgers and hot dogs to order, but spit-roasted Greek lamb gyros on pita bread as well.