Back in the day, the idea of going on the maiden voyage of any new ship had an aura of prestige and glamour that appealed right across the travelling community. Especially in the pre and post war heyday of the transatlantic run, the first sailing of any new ship invariably attracted banner headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
Passengers, in turn, were intrigued by the idea of being part of a piece of history; a headline grabbing maiden crossing was, quite literally, a true rite of passage that participants could dine out on for years. Many did just that.
But the pace and poise of the Atlantic run has largely given way to the indolent largesse of the contemporary cruise circuit. With an ever increasing conga line of new ships emerging each new year, does the ‘maiden voyage’ of today still have the cachet of old?
In many ways, a maiden voyage-especially for a first of class ship- is a bit of a leap in the dark. Shipyard delays are a fact of life in some cases. The crew- all of them new to the ship and most of them even newer to each other- have not really had time to perfect that subtle ballet of interaction with their new surroundings, their crew mates and, indeed, their passengers. Simple fact; anyone expecting flawless perfection and serenity should avoid any maiden voyage like the plague.
Conversely, a second of class ship is- in theory- something of a safer bet. The company will have gained practical experience with the prototype ship, and the new ship will invariably have been tweaked to make her more passenger friendly. In addition, a core cadre of experienced crew members will be transferred to the new ship to make sure that the transition from shipyard to passenger service flows more easily.This is simple common sense.
Many things can also go wrong after an existing ship is extensively refurbished. Public areas and some cabins might still be unfinished, and potential passengers should be aware of that. Sometimes shipyards sign up to completely unrealistic work time tables, simply to gain the work for themselves and/or prevent it going to a rival.
When this occurs, a perfect storm ensues. The line bears the brunt of negative headlines, hugely disgruntled passengers and a harassed, overly stressed crew that simply cannot deliver the experience promised in all the glossy, pre launch literature. Nobody wins in situations like this.
In my mind, a ship generally takes a minimum of four months to ‘bed down’ properly into commercial service. And yet…..
There is still nothing like the glitter, drama and sheer, adrenaline pumping surge of being part of a maiden voyage. Everything is new, with that ‘just unwrapped’ feel that creates a compelling, totally electric atmosphere. The sheer sense of occasion is palpable and, of course, all eyes will be on you. The cachet of being among the first to experience a stunning, sprawling new maritime masterpiece is one that is as timeless and irresistible as ever.
All of these factors are things to bear in mind. The bottom line is that you cannot realistically expect perfection on any maiden voyage. It is far more about the sense of occasion than subtle service and polished opulence.
But would I do a maiden voyage myself? Absolutely. But my expectations would be realistic, and not blinded by hyperbole and glitter. Temper your expectations and just savour the occasion.
And it is always worth bearing in mind that the one and only ship that seemed to approach near perfection on her maiden voyage proceeded to ruin it all when she made an all too perfect approach on a half submerged iceberg.
And those, my friends, are headlines that nobody wants to be part of, however exciting and dramatic it all seems in retrospect.