The Ugly File

February 16, 2018


The Ugly File

We had to chortle. It’s something we’ve been saying for years, in the forlorn hope that someone, somewhere would pay attention and raise the issue in The Press (as we used to call it. Nowadays, it’s more likely to be Faceblock, or Tweetie Pie, or some such similar nonsense).

Anyway, there we were enjoying our morning perusal of the papers and up popped this headline on one side of the screen (yes, we admit it. We now have our news arrive via the Inbox rather than the letter box. Another sad sign of the times. Or The Times. But we digress. Again).

It wasn’t the most likely of news outlets to raise the question, but USA Today is certainly the first we’ve seen to pose the essential head-scratcher: What is the ugliest cruise ship sailing today?

America’s tabloid newspaper is not usually at the forefront of asking key questions like this, but it’s a credit to their cruise correspondent Gene Sloan that he was prepared to stick his head above the parapet among a welter of borderline sycophantic outpourings of faux excitement about the latest mega-ships with their gew-gaws, gimmicks and gadgets, and say, “My god, that’s ugly.”

Not just, “That’s not a very good-looking ship,” but simply “That’s seriously, hideously mis-shapen.”

The sad nay-sayers that we are, we have been banging this particular maritime drum for quite a few years now. In fact, we can actually pin-point the very day we first looked out of our porthole and espied the offending article.

As Great Aunt Bessie might have said, in a different time and place, “Lorks. There’s an outrage on the lawn.”

It was July 2, 2010, when the Norwegian Epic was christened by Reba McEntire – we’re led to believe she is some kind of musician – and a whole industry looked at the newcomer and remarked, “That’s a SHIP?”

Okay, the might not have said it out loud, but there were certainly plenty of people thinking it. And that’s the point. It may look nice and shiny from the inside (and, for the record, the Blue Man Group show on board was very possibly the best entertainment at sea for the ship’s first five years), but the exterior view is simply ghastly, and it’s hard to imagine anyone on another ship looking across the harbour and insisting, “I must go on THERE!”

But, while the Epic remains a singular figure of fun (it was, surely, the vessel created to go with Prince Charles’ famous description, 34 years ago, of the proposed extension to the National Gallery as “a monstrous carbuncle”), it is certainly not the only ocean-going eyesight offender.

Royal Caribbean have turned their vessels into mere floating theme parks, massively high, broad and packed with bad food. Carnival Cruises have long abandoned any eye-pleasing aesthetic that they derived from their iconic funnel shape by packing the superstructure with all manner of garish slides, flumes and appendages. And MSC Cruises are also hurtling down the same misbegotten route with their latest vessels, the profile and rear view of which can only be described as deformed and disagreeable.

Even Celebrity Cruises have – at least temporarily – taken leave of their senses by appending what looks to be some kind of industrial elevator to the side of their forthcoming Celebrity Edge ship, due out this December.

Yes, we know cruise ships have to conform to different specifications and requirements these days, but dash it all, this just isn’t a matter of function over form. In our passion for pulchritude, we are unanimous in insisting a ship still should still look like a ship, and there are plenty of lines that still agree with us.

Crystal, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea have all stuck firmly to the idea that their vessels remain a sea-going entity first and foremost. Their lines and proportions are all still primarily nautical. Likewise, Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania abide by this notion of seafaring subtlety. Newcomers Viking Ocean Cruises, who began operations with the chic Viking Star in 2015 (borrowing a heavy dose of Crystal design style, it should be said) also adhere to the same principles.

And this ethos of finesse is not confined to the smaller-ship operators either. Both Princess and Cunard have produced fine-looking vessels of 90,000 tons or above, while Holland America also continue to include a proper sense of proportion. By a different token, dear old Fred. Olsen maintain a proud cruise tradition by sticking to their older tonnage, and, more importantly, have committed to building future vessels along similar lines.

Cunard Queen Mary 2So, it can be done. The Queen Mary 2, Seven Seas Voyager and P&O’s Arcadia all entered service within a few months of each other between 2003 and 2004, and all three continue to be bastions of genuine cruise correctitude. It remains a fascinating debate. Some ships have definitely got ‘it,’ while others are most definitely without.

Or are we wrong? Feel free to tell us otherwise in the Comments section below.

(Actually, we know we’re not, but our editor insists we have to give readers the chance to voice their own opinions, however wrong they may be.)

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