Cruise Passengers Welcome on m/v Explorer’s Semester At Sea – Other Cruise News: Two Expedition Ships Carry New Colours – Prince Philip Turns 90

by Kevin Griffin

And now for something totally different. We look at two cruises that are being offered to the public on Semester at Sea’s 24,318-ton world cruiser m/v Explorer, which offers two world cruises a year as well as a number of shorter enrichment voyages on which passengers may book as well as university students. And we look at two expedition ships, the Orion II and Hanseatic, which both left port on Friday under new colours. Finally, Prince Philip turned 90 on Friday and we have a look back at his maritime background, which has included yet another kind of cruising.


Cruise Passengers Welcome on m/v Explorer’s Semester At Sea

And now for something totally different – cruises that do not conform to the norm and will be of interest to inveterate travellers and fans of small ships. Many people have probably never heard of Semester at Sea, a study program founded in 1963 and now managed by the Institute for Shipboard Education in Charlottesville, Virginia, and sponsored by the University of Virginia. In its history nearly 55,000 college and university students have participated in the program but so have thousands of cruise passengers who go along for the ride.

SAS today owns and operates the m/v Explorer, which might be better known to some cruise passengers as the Royal Olympic Explorer. Built at Hamburg’s famous Blohm & Voss shipyard in 2002, with accommodations for about 800 passengers, the nearly-new ship was taken on in the summer of 2004, and after Royal Olympic Cruises went out of business, she was purchased in 2008. Her sister ship is now the Grand Voyager, working for Spanish-based Iberocruceros.

The Explorer follows a long line of earlier SAS ships that included a Holland America Line German subsidiary, Europe Canada Line’s 11,086-ton Seven Seas, Holland America’s own 15,015-ton Ryndam of 1951 and CY Tung’s 14,136-ton Universe and 22,162-ton Universe Explorer, the latter a former Holland America ship herself. It had also been intended to use Tung’s 83,673-ton Queen Elizabeth, acquired from the Cunard Line and renamed Seawise University in 1972, but she burned during her conversion at Hong Kong.

The roots of this type of education at sea program actually date back eighty-five years, with the first ship to be chartered by America’s University Travel Association being Holland America’s 12,527-ton Ryndam of 1901, which was used for a thirty-week University World Cruise in 1926.

The University of Virginia took on sponsorship of SAS in 2006 but previous sponsors had included Chapman College (1965-75), the University of Colorado (1977-80) and University of Pittsburgh (1981-2006). The Explorer usually offers two world cruises each year, one each in spring and autumn, with shorter voyages interspersed between. Since 2009, because of the concerns over Somali pirates, world cruise itineraries have been rerouted via the Cape of Good Hope instead of the Suez Canal.

Faculty members are drawn from colleges and universities throughout the United States and students attend classes while at sea in a variety of subjects. These classes are typically humanities-related and connected with the countries visited on the itinerary, and built around a core course in global studies. No classes are held in port, but speakers are invited from the locality where the ship is docked and students are also able to travel on sponsored trips or independently within the country where the ship is, but not outside it.

What is not generally known about the Explorer, however, is that in addition to her load of professors and students, she can carry about 200 passengers on her world voyages and even more on her other enrichment voyages. The biggest advantage of her world cruises is that the usual port stay is between three and seven days, allowing for huge opportunities for real travellers for real exploration of the places she calls. Passengers who are interested are also welcomed to lectures on board.

The Autumn 2011 world voyage leaves Montreal on August 26 and returns to Fort Lauderdale 111 days later. Fares in an ocean view stateroom start at US $16,500 per person (about €12,175 or £10,615 pp) in double occupancy, including port charges, gratuities and lecture programs. This compares to inside cabins at $20,015 for 112 days on board Holland America’s Amsterdam or $23,154 for 107 days on Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess.

Master of the Explorer is Capt Jeremy Kingston, who first embarked on a career at sea in 1974 as an officer cadet with P&O. Among other ships he has served in the famous British-India Line school ship Uganda, which at one time carried secondary school students and a few passengers on voyages to the Mediterranean and elsewhere. After serving in a number of P&O and Princess ships, Capt Kingston’s career took him to Safmarine, Pearl Cruises and V.Ships, and in 1996 he became master of Swan Hellenic’s Minerva. Serving later as master with Renaissance Cruises and on Radisson Seven Seas’ Radisson Diamond, he has commanded the Explorer since 2005.

The 2011 autumn voyage leaves Montreal on August 26, making three calls in Africa, at Casablanca (3 days), Takoradi (3 days) and Cape Town (5 days), on to Mauritius (1 day) and a call at Chennai, formerly Madras, in India (5 days), Southeast Asia at Penang (2 days) and Ho Chi Minh City (6 days), the Far East at Hong Kong (5 days) and Kobe (4 days) and the Pacific at Hilo, Hawaii (1 day) and Puntarenas, Costa Rica (2 days).
If conditions in Japan do not allow a call a substitute visit will be made to Taiwan. Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has travelled in the Explorer in the past, will visit the ship in Cape Town.

If all goes according to plan, the Explorer will also become the first US-based passenger ship to call at Cuba in over fifty years, as a travel licence has been applied for to enable her to call at Havana between December 9 and 11. The cruise will then finish in Fort Lauderdale on December 13, in time for Christmas. Sector fares are available from Montreal to Casablanca, Cape Town or Hong Kong or from Casablanca, Cape Town and Hong Kong to Fort Lauderdale as follows: – Montreal to Cape Town (Aug 26-Sept 28) – Outside $4,760, Inside $4,080 for 33 days; Montreal to Hong Kong (Aug 26-Nov 3) – Outside $9,800, Inside $8,400 for 70 days; Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale (Sept 28-Dec 13) – Outside $10,780 Inside $9,240 for 55 days; and Hong Kong to Fort Lauderdale (Nov 3-Dec 13) – Outside $5,740, Inside $4,920 for 41 days, all per person in double occupancy.

Following the world cruise another passenger opportunity beckons on a 21-day “Enrichment Cruise” to the Amazon, leaving Nassau on December 22 and covering both the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. This cruise includes overnights at San Juan and Manaus, plus six nights on the Amazon, and late departures from St Kitts (11 pm), Grenada (9 pm), Port of Spain (9 pm) and Barbados (10 pm) as well as 10-hour calls at Santarem and Dominica. Fare for this voyage start at $1,999 for 21 days in an inside cabin.

For further information on these cruises contact the Institute for Shipboard Education through The Cruise Examiner at


Two Expedition Ships Carry New Colours

As it happens, two expedition ships left different ports on Friday in new colours, when the newly-acquired 100-berth Orion II sailed from Vancouver and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ 184-berth Hanseatic left Hamburg.

Australian-based Orion Expedition Cruises’ new Orion II left Vancouver on her 24-night maiden voyage to Otaru, Japan, in Hokkaido. Along the way she will make calls at several ports in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, Russia’s Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. With her 64-person crew serving only 100 guests, she has one of the highest guest-to-crew ratios in the industry.

During 2010, Travel Dynamics of New York operated the Orion II as the Clelia II (named for Clelia Haji-Ioannou, Stelios’s sister) on a summer-long season of Great Lakes cruises. The Orion herself, the ship Orion II joins at Orion Expedition Cruises, also operated summer cruises in the Great Lakes, so this is the second time that Orion have taken a cruise ship from the Great Lakes. All is not lost, however, as Travel Dynamics will soon announce another ship for the Great Lakes in 2012, with a capacity for 130 passengers, about a third more than the previous two ships.

Elsewhere, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has decided to unify the colours carried by its fleet. After a 13-day drydocking at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, the Hanseatic has now appeared in Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ distinctive colours of white, orange and blue. With her charter extended until 2018, her drydocking included more than 780 items, among them, the renovation and modernisation of two decks of cabins, the buffet restaurant, and the sauna and pool area. Until now, the Hanseatic had carried the colours of the former North Atlantic liner of the same name, which had operated for the German Atlantic Line.

The modernisation has included complete renovation of cabins on Decks 5 and 6, with plenty of wood, new fabrics, furniture and carpeting helping to create a warm atmosphere and contemporary design. The Columbus Lounge buffet restaurant has found a new life as the Bistro Lemaire. The pool and sauna were also modernised, with a new steam sauna, as well as a multi-mode shower. More than 11,482 sq ft of carpet, 621 gallons of paint and 3,937 sq ft of fabric went into the renovations.

The Hanseatic left Hamburg on Friday for a four-day cruise via List, on the island of Sylt, and Binz, near Rügen, to Travemünde on the Baltic. With a crew of 122 serving 184 passengers she has a slightly better crew-to-passenger ratio than the Orion II.

Prince Philip Turns 90

While Prince Philip, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, is not known as an inveterate cruiser, he has spent a good deal of time at sea, starting from a very young age. Philip was born on June 10, 1921 in Corfu, to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice, and first went to sea at the young age of eighteen months. On September 22, 1922, Andrew’s brother, King Constantine I, was forced to abdicate the Greek throne and a revolutionary court then sentenced Prince Andrew to banishment for life.

Fortunately, King George V of Britain heard of this and ordered the cruiser HMS Calypso to evacuate the family, with Philip being carried to safety in a cot made from an orange box.

After graduating from Gordonstoun School in 1939, at the age of 18, Philip joined the Royal Navy, graduating from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in 1940 as best cadet in his course. Commissioned as a midshipman, he spent six months on the battleship HMS Ramillies in the Indian Ocean and in January 1941 was posted to the Mediterranean fleet in the battleship HMS Valiant. There he took part in the Battle of Crete and was mentioned in despatches for his service during the Battle of Cape Matapan, also being awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.

One particular incident for which Philip is known occurred in August 1941, at which time he was still a midshipman, travelling in the troopship Empress of Russia from Halifax to the Clyde. The real Empress of Russia, for whom the ship had been named in 1913, Czarina Alexandra – the Alexandra of Nicholas and Alexandra – was actually a great aunt to Prince Philip, but had been assassinated with the Czar and their four daughters in July 1918.

On August 26, 1941, the Empress had left Halifax in such a hurry that she left behind 92 Chinese stokers (the ship had been engaged in Canadian Pacific’s Transpacific service). A call went out for volunteers amongst the troops and those on board and among the volunteers was 20-year-old Prince Philip of Greece. Travelling in Canadian troop convoy TC.12B with destroyers as escorts, the Empress of Russia reached the Clyde on September 1, a remarkably quick time for a ship with volunteer stokers.

Philip’s subsequent postings included the destroyers HMS Wallace, where he was involved in convoy escort and the Allied invasion of Sicily, and HMS Whelp, where he saw service in the Pacific, including being present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrender was signed. He also spent short spells in the heavy cruisers HMS Shropshire and HMS Kent.

In November 1947, he married Princess Elizabeth and for a time remained in the Royal Navy, taking command in 1950 of the frigate HMS Magpie, but he left active service with the rank of commander in 1951.

Prince Philip has cruised various parts of the world in the royal yacht HMY Britannia between her entry into service in 1954 and decommissioning in 1997. Indeed, over a career of forty-four years, the Britannia carried Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family on no fewer than 968 official voyages.

In more recent years, the Royal Family have taken to cruising in Hebridean Island Cruises’ Hebridean Princess, a vessel that they have twice chartered exclusively for family cruises. On Friday, Prince Philip was honoured by the Queen with the title of Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy, a title that the Queen herself had previously held.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England)

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