Ever since Saint Clive of Palmer launched his fondly envisaged Titanic II project, we’ve had to endure a tidal wave of pious platitudes and rosy burbling about the so called ‘golden age’ of sea travel. Those great, gilded ocean palaces of the past have been flaunted ad infinitum as the absolute apogee of seagoing style and splendour. Often by people who have never even set foot in a puddle, never mind crossing the North Atlantic in a Force Ten.
Let’s inject a little realism here. The shades of those great, beautiful old ships- and they were that- would surely have looked with wry amusement at the rock climbing walls, ice rinks and water parks enjoyed by the voyagers of today on their successors. Not the sort of thing that they would have wanted on board, or needed.
These were a few other modern fripperies that the old ships conspicuously lacked. Stabilisers. Air conditioning. Modern standards of food hygiene, storage and refrigeration. For sure, passengers undoubtedly dressed more elegantly in those days. Fat lot of good if you were being elegantly seasick in a Tuxedo aboard some ocean liner, as it rolled like a drunken duchess in a howler of a winter storm. Stylish indeed.
And while nothing for me will ever match the vast, lustrous beauty of the Normandie- both inside and out- that most mourned and lauded of all ocean liners was known as a notoriously snappy roller. It used to be deadpanned among ocean travellers that she smashed quantities of on board lalique as casually as if it came from Woolworths.
It is infinitely more comfortable to cross these days on the Queen Mary 2, with all the state of the art luxury, comfort and entertainment that you could ever want laid on for you. So why this obsessive worship and veneration of these long gone, old ocean liners, especially when it is obvious that they do not come close to today’s modern ships in terms of actual comfort and well being?
Those old ships had style, class and individuality; qualities largely absent today among a flotilla of mass produced hulls almost indistinguishable from one another. Time and distance adds to the magical aura of those effortlessly elegant seagoing icons. The past always looks better. I dare bet passengers on the Mauretania or the Olympic looked back on the age of sail through similar rose coloured glasses.
Simple idea how to combine the best of old and new? Take a trans-ocean voyage on one of the ultra luxury lines, and grab one of Maxtone-Graham or Bill Miller’s elegant, evocative volumes on the history of ocean travel. Old meets new, and you can put both into a blissful, realistic kind of context. Voyaging? It has never been more fun or comfortable than it is right now. Fact.