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Premier Cruises SS SeaBreeze

  • Submitted by: David Stybr
  • Submission Date: 14th Feb 2005

Prologue, Saturday & Sunday, 13 & 14 June: Interstate 80, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Cruises are among our favorite vacations. My wife Denise loves the ships and I love the ports. Most of all we like the Mississippi Queen, and we have taken 5 cruises on it and 1 on the Delta Queen. Over the years we have cruised the entire Mississippi River in 1-week segments from New Orleans, Louisiana to St. Paul, Minnesota, plus the Ohio River up to Cincinnati, Ohio. On oceans we have cruised once in Hawaii, twice in Alaska and 4 times on the Caribbean Sea. That totaled lucky 13 cruises, and we decided to try an unusual itinerary for our 14th cruise.

After a Panamá Canal cruise on the Premier Cruises ship OceanBreeze in January I won a free cruise in a comment card drawing. We chose the North Atlantic Ocean on the SeaBreeze, so on 15 June we sailed from New York to Newport, Rhode Island; Portland, Maine; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and back to New York. The regular itinerary is 5 days, but this special pre-season cruise was 6 days. The extra day was at sea from Maine to Nova Scotia, which gave us more time in both Portland, Maine (8AM-5PM instead of 8AM-2PM) and Halifax, Nova Scotia (8AM-5PM instead of 12PM-6PM). This was a lovely counterpart to our past cruises of British Columbia and Alaska.

As a change of pace we decided to drive to our ship instead of fly. This let us enjoy the lovely scenery along the way which otherwise we would have missed. It is about 800 miles (1300 kilometers) from Chicago, Illinois to New York, New York via Interstate 80. We divided this into 2 days: 500 miles the first day with an overnight in Clarion, Pennsylvania; then 300 miles the next day with an overnight in Secaucus, New Jersey. Interstate 80 follows the Indiana Toll Road and the Ohio Turnpike for half the distance from Chicago to New York, and these roads were a pleasure to drive. It was interesting to see the many long double- and triple-rig semis, which are legal in Indiana and Ohio. Last year in Australia we heard a delightful term for long trucks like these: Road Trains.

Day 1, Monday 15 June: New York, New York; depart 4:30 PM

Monday morning we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel into New York City to our ship. This was simple, but just before the tunnel half of the traffic suddenly decided they wanted to be in the opposite lanes. Just after the Lincoln Tunnel we turned left (west) onto 40th Street and then right (north) onto 12th Avenue. The entrance to the Passenger Ship Terminal was a left turn (west) at 55th Street. It was an upward ramp to a passenger drop-off area where signs clearly indicated which ships were at which piers. We arrived at 11:00 AM and I dropped off Denise, her parents and our luggage at Pier 88 for the SeaBreeze, where we checked our large pieces of luggage with the porters. Then I drove up another ramp to the parking areas atop the piers. Long term parking cost $16 per day, paid in cash in advance. Parking was open air, but in a secure area surrounded by a fence. Then I locked my car, took the keys and walked to the pier. This gave me a good view of the New York City skyline and the ship, so I took a few photos as the crew prepared the buffet. Then I took the escalator down and prepared to embark.

Embarkation proceeded smoothly. This was the first cruise of this season for the SeaBreeze, so we did not contend with any debarking passengers. At 12:30 PM embarkation began and we queued to enter the terminal. Next we queued for the security checks. Finally we queued to process our documents at the check-in counters, and we were aboard the ship by 1:00 PM. Many persons made the mistake to put away their boarding passes immediately after check-in, and a minute later had to rummage through their purses and pockets for their passes to board the ship.

Premier Cruises are definitely a budget cruise line. The ships are small, old and lack the dazzle and glitz of the new megaliners. However they are a good value for the price and have a plain charm not found on more glamorous but less personal ships. Passengers who have champagne tastes and beer budgets will be disappointed, but those who accept some inconveniences will be happy with a ship that looks and feels like a ship. The smaller size also made it easier to establish a rapport with passengers and crew. The service and cuisine were good.

SS SeaBreeze Statistics
Built: 1958; Displacement: 21,000 tons
Cruise Speed: 21 knots
Length: 605 feet; Beam: 79 feet; Draft: 29 feet
Crew: 400; Passenger Capacity: 840; Passenger Decks: 9
Registry: Panamá

The SeaBreeze has a long and varied history. Built in 1958, she cruised for many years as the Costa Cruises ship Frederico C, and the gates to the bridge show the Costa 'C' designed into the ironwork. Later she cruised with Premier Cruises as the original Big Red Boat: Star Ship Royale. In 1989 Dolphin Cruises purchased it and revamped it into the SS SeaBreeze. Then in 1997 Premier Cruises purchased Dolphin Cruises, and the SeaBreeze returned once more to her previous owners. Evidence of these 3 most recent owners can be seen in the smokestack, with the most recent Premier logo painted over the outlines of the 2 previous logos.

The Four Seasons Observatory is a large area of forward deck space on La Bohème Deck (B Deck), a place to view as the ship comes into port. At the aft are the Prélude Bar and the Water Music Whirlpool, a cozy trio of hot tubs. Carmen Deck (C Deck) features the Pastorale Café, a casual outdoor dining spot at the aft. Just forward of this is the Carmen Lounge, the main showroom which has somewhat uncomfortable large semi-circular sofas and pillars which interfere with sightlines. Amidships on this deck are the duty-free shop La Boutique Fantastique, the Surprise Casino, and the Harmony Room which has art auctions and table games. Forward of these are the Light Cavalry Arcade which features video games, and the Royal Fireworks Lounge which also holds casino table games.

Daphne Deck (D Deck) is primarily cabins, but also includes the Allegro Shop for snacks and non-prescription drugs, and the Slim Gym Center. The Serenade Bar at the aft is a piano bar, and just outside is the small La Mer Pool. Electra Deck (E Deck) features the Intermezzo Theatre forward, Purser Square and Bacchanalia Restaurant amidships, and the Children's Corner. Meals are served in 2 seatings in the Bacchanalia Restaurant. Way down below on Juliet Deck (J Deck) is Agitato Disco, with its art-deco style.

The food in the Bacchanalia Restaurant was generally excellent, varied and often inspired. We prefer first seating, and a table for 8 helped us meet interesting people. Denise, her parents and I were very lucky because we had excellent dinner companions. We dined with a fascinating couple from New York City and another from Massachusetts, and they added immeasurably to our enjoyment of this cruise. Both couples were on their first cruise whereas we were on our 14th cruise, so it was fun to compare impressions. Denise's parents marked their 47th anniversary in June, and one evening we celebrated at dinner with Captain Dimitrios Chilas. The Captain was very charming and seemed to enjoy the chance to chat with some of his guests.

Breakfast and lunch were generally open seating, except on days at sea when they were assigned seating. Buffets were also available in the Pastorale Café and the Planets Counter, which also featured hamburgers and hot dogs. Generally we dined in the Bacchanalia Restaurant because it was our chance to try all sorts of unusual dishes. The Midnight Buffet was generally spectacular, and each night had a different theme such as Chinese, Mexican, Italian etc. Despite all the great meals that cruise ships offer, on almost every cruise it amuses us in port to see how many people run from the ship to the nearest McDonald's or Pizza Hut for some 'real' food. Somehow we have always managed to endure the delicious cuisine for the entire cruise.

We had a Deluxe Oceanview cabin on Electra Deck. The cabin was quite spacious with a double bed, a single bed and an upper bunk which remained folded away, but no chairs. We had 4 small closets and a dresser with 3 drawers and a pull-out desk top. The bathroom and shower were small but adequate. Instead of a window the cabin had a porthole. Our cabin steward was nearly invisible but efficient.

The mandatory life boat drill took place before we sailed and proceeded smoothly compared to some of our other cruises. Some passengers complained about the need to stand in life jackets at our lifeboat station until everything was checked. However we made a virtue of necessity and used the time to chat with some of our fellow cruisers.

Much of our cruise brought either overcast or foggy weather, but this was more than compensated by some of the smoothest waters we have ever sailed in the open sea. Indeed, the fog wrapped much of the scenery in a romantic blanket of misty stillness. The weather frequently cleared in the afternoons, and in any case the slightly cool temperatures were a welcome relief from the heat wave that struck Illinois in June.

New York, New York

Generally I like to research the places we will visit beforehand, to help us better appreciate the ports. Some statistics: New York City is in southeast New York State on New York Bay at the mouth of the Hudson River. The city population is about 7,350,000; metropolitan area 8,500,000; greater metropolitan area 20,000,000. It is the largest city in the United States, a major port, the trade center of the nation and, with its banks and stock exchanges, a major financial center of the world. New York City is made of 5 boroughs, each of which is a county: Manhattan (New York County), an island; the Bronx (Bronx County), on the mainland, northeast of Manhattan across the Harlem River; Queens (Queens County), on Long Island, east of Manhattan across the East River; Brooklyn (Kings County), also on Long Island, on the East River adjoining Queens and on New York Bay; and Staten Island (Richmond County), an island southwest of Manhattan across the Upper Bay. In 1624 the town of Nieuwe Amsterdam was established on Lower Manhattan. Dutch colonial administrator Peter Minuit supposedly bought the island from its Native American inhabitants for about $24 worth of trinkets. In 1664 the British seized the colony and renamed it New York. During the American Revolution they held it from 1776 to 1781.

As we sailed out of New York Bay, we passed some famous sights. The Intrepid is a United States Navy aircraft carrier from World War II and Vietnam now permanently moored as a museum in the Hudson River with other navy ships. Nearby are the boats of Circle Line Cruises, which offer a 3-hour, 35-mile narrated cruise completely around Manhattan Island. We took their cruise several years ago and found it a great way to spend an afternoon.

The Empire State Building is on Fifth Avenue, between 33rd Street and 34th Street. It was designed by the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, and built in 1930 and 1931. With 102 stories, it was the tallest building on Earth until 1971 when the World Trade Center was partially complete. The World Trade Center in lower Manhattan consists of 7 buildings and a shopping concourse. Most prominent are the 110-story, rectangular twin towers which stand 1,350 feet (411 meters). Designed by Minoru Yamasaki and Emery Roth, the towers and concourse were completed in 1973. A terrorist bomb explosion damaged portions of the complex in 1993. The Brooklyn Bridge was the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world, built from 1869 to 1883. The Brooklyn Bridge links the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Designed by John Augustus Roebling and his son Washington Augustus Roebling, it was the world's longest suspension bridge when completed.

Best of all we sailed through New York Bay past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Of course we did not stop at these islands, but in any case some native New Yorkers on this cruise said that the view of the skyline was much better from the open decks of the ship than from the hot cramped windows atop the Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island has been United States Government property since 1808. It served as the chief entry station for immigrants to the United States from 1892 to 1943. It is now open to tourists and has an immigration museum. The Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in Upper New York Bay is in New Jersey waters but under New York jurisdiction. The 152-foot (46-meter) statue was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The Statue of Liberty was presented to the United States by the Franco-American Union to commemorate the American Revolution. Dedicated in 1886, it became a national monument in 1924 and was extensively restored in 1986.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is the longest vehicular suspension bridge in the United States. It spans the Narrows at the entrance to New York Bay. Completed in 1964, it has a main span of 4,260 feet (1,298 meters). We sailed under the bridge and into the North Atlantic Ocean en route to the New England States and Atlantic Provinces.

Day 2, Tuesday 16 June: Newport, Rhode Island; 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM

The smallest state in the United States has the longest official name: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The island of Rhode Island itself is at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. Also known as Aquidneck Island, the island was renamed Rhode Island in 1644 after the Isle of Rhodes. Newport has a population of 28,000 and is the seat of Newport County. Newport was settled in 1639 and incorporated in 1784. It was an important colonial center and later a city where blue-bloods gathered for the summers. Newport is now a modern city with a lifestyle that revolves around the ocean. The intense relationship has nicknamed Newport 'The City by the Sea'. Newport is also noted for yachting, and the America's Cup races were held here for many years.

Newport was the only port where the SeaBreeze anchored and used tenders instead of a dock or pier. In the morning we took the Grande Mansion Tour. A bus tour took us around Aquidneck Island and we learned about the 'Gilded Age' of Newport. In the 19th Century, Newport became one of the world's most famous summer resorts where the wealthy built palatial 'cottages' such as The Breakers. Its palatial mansions are now a tourist attraction. The Breakers was built in 1895 by railway magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt, in the style of a 16th Century Italian palace.

Day 3, Wednesday 17 June: Portland, Maine; 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Portland has a population of 65,000 and is the seat of Cumberland County in southwest Maine, on a peninsula in Casco Bay and includes 5 islands in the bay. Portland was settled in 1632 and incorporated in 1786. It was the state capital from 1820 until 1832 when Augusta became capital. Portland is the largest city and commercial center in Maine. It has a deepwater harbor, and imports oil and other goods destined for Montréal, Québec. Portland is the shipping and processing point for a farming, lumbering, and resort area, with shipyards, canneries and foundries.

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was born in Portland. A professor of modern languages, he taught at Bowdoin College and later at Harvard University. One of the most popular poets of his time, Longfellow created a body of romantic American legends in long narrative poems such as Evangeline, The Song of Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Paul Revere's Ride.

In the afternoon we took a lighthouse tour. Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine, and one of the most photographed in the nation. It was commissioned by President George Washington in 1791 to aid mariners along Maine's perilous coastline. The beauty of the lighthouse above the rocky sea coast is sublime.

In Portland I actually did a bit of work, which helped defray an hour of our vacation. In 1996 and 1997 my company designed and installed the automation for the new Casco Bay Drawbridge, and my boss asked me to photograph it as our ship cruised into the bay. In the afternoon I walked over and around the bridge for more photos. If my photos turn out well, these may be used in our next company profile. The Casco Bay Bridge was completed in 1997 and has one of the largest draw spans in the nation. It has four 460-ton leaves, 2 on each side, that work independently. Each leaf is more than half the length of a football field.

Day 4, Thursday 18 June: At Sea

On this pre-season 6-day version of their usual 5-day cruise, we enjoyed an extra day at sea. This was a day to relax and do nothing, because there was not much else to do. The planned activities were not very numerous, and all seemed scheduled at the same time. This meant we could take part in only 1 or 2 of the activities we wanted, such as the Navigational Bridge Tour and the Art Auction, and then do nothing for the rest of the day. Luckily I had a good book. After the usual hectic pace of my workweeks, this was a welcome chance to relish my boredom.

The entertainment in the Carmen Lounge was good with cabaret style performers such as a British comedian, a juggler and a magician. There were also musical revues by a very talented quartet of singers and dancers. The Intermezzo Theatre was an intimate cinema with recent releases, but nothing we particularly wanted to see. In the evening we enjoyed a few drinks in the Serenade Bar and listened to Ted Connor at the piano. Some passengers sang along, and one man treated us to several selections from the musical Oklahoma. Then it was my turn to sing 'Old Man River' from Show Boat, in tribute to our many past cruises on the Mississippi River.

Day 5, Friday 19 June: Halifax, Nova Scotia; 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Our favorite port was Halifax. This was our first visit to any of the Atlantic Provinces of Canada, and Nova Scotia was beautiful and very friendly. NATO exercises were underway, and many ships and naval personnel from Europe and North America were in Halifax Harbour. As the SeaBreeze arrived at the pier we were greeted by bagpipers in kilts, a drummer and a town crier with a bell who unrolled a scroll and welcomed us to the city.

Americans who travel internationally soon notice that the United States is the only country on Earth which does not use the metric system. Canada converted to the metric system decades ago, at about the same time Australia did and the United States didn't. As an engineer who uses both the metric and imperial systems extensively in my work, metric comes easily to me and I need not convert in my head. In fact I prefer the metric system because its 10s, 100s and 1000s are much more logical than the imperial system with its 12s, 32s, 36s, 124s, 212s, 5280s etc. Celsius temperatures are rather easy to follow with this rhyme: '30 is warm, 20 is nice, 10 is cool and 0 is ice.'

In the morning we took a tour to Peggy's Cove. This is a fishing village is famed for its houses perched along a narrow inlet and on wave-washed boulders facing the Atlantic Ocean, which make it one of the most photographed places in Canada. The weather brought dense fog which wrapped the village in romantic misty stillness. Peggy's Cove Lighthouse was built in 1914 high upon the smooth wave-worn granite of the Atlantic Coast. It no longer serves as a beacon, but Canada Post now operate it as the only post office in Canada which is in a lighthouse. Near the lighthouse was a university student who played the bagpipes every day for visitors. She had earned enough money the previous summer to pay her university tuition. Also in Peggy's Cove is the deGarthe Gallery which displays 65 paintings by William E. deGarthe which show his progress as a marine artist and sculptor. Adjacent to the gallery is William E. deGarthe Memorial Provincial Park. deGarthe carved this 'lasting monument to Nova Scotia fishermen' on the 30-metre (100-foot) face of a granite outcrop behind his house. The sculpture depicts 32 fishermen, their wives and children, a guardian angel and the legendary Peggy of Peggy's Cove.

Halifax was founded in 1749 and now has a population of 115,000. The Halifax Regional Municipality has a population of 345,000. Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia, located in the south-central region of the province. It is the largest city in the Atlantic provinces and Canada's principal ice-free port and naval base on the eastern seaboard. Halifax has one of the finest natural harbours on Earth, and it is the 2nd-largest natural harbour after Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Much of eastern Canada's trade passes through the port when the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River are closed by ice in winter. Halifax had some of the friendliest people we have ever met. Many passengers were amazed to see traffic actually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks in Halifax, instead of try to run them down as in New York City.

The Citadel of Halifax is the most visited National Historic Site in Canada. It is a towering fortress built between 1825 and 1856 and was one of the largest British fortresses in North America. The Citadel is an impressive star-shaped masonry structure complete with defensive ditch, earthen ramparts, musketry gallery, powder magazine, garrison cells, guard room, barracks and school room. Citadel Hill offers a panorama of Halifax Harbour. Down the hill from the Citadel is the Town Clock. The clock was presented to the city in 1803 by Prince Edward, who was renowned for his punctuality. The clock has 4 faces and was placed to be visible anywhere in town.

We also visited 2 shopping areas. Granville Mall is a group of elegant Italianate buildings which were constructed in 1859 by wealthy merchants and now house shops. The Historic Properties near Halifax Harbour cover 3 square blocks of timber-frame buildings and stone warehouses originally built in the late 1700s and early 1800s to safeguard the booty captured by ruthless privateers. They now contain the most popular waterfront marketplace in Halifax, with specialty shops, restaurants and special events.

Just before we sailed away, the Amethyst Scottish Dancers performed in the Carmen Lounge aboard the SeaBreeze. This cruise was a fine way to sample this part of Canada. We want to explore more of the Atlantic Provinces some year, especially now that the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island is in place.

Day 6, Saturday 20 June: At Sea

A great as the ports of call were, our wonderful fellow passengers made the cruise even more enjoyable. Many were on their first cruise, and most enjoyed it so much that they looked forward to their next cruises. They helped us enjoy the cruise with fresh outlooks, and we helped them appreciate what we have learned in our 14 cruises.

As always, some persons love to complain or simply do not appreciate their surroundings. Most of the passengers were from New York or New Jersey, and some had no idea where our home state of Illinois was. We heard the Hudson River and New York Bay described as Hudson Bay, which is a very different body of water! In Nova Scotia someone saw the seagulls and commented about all the “penguins”; whereas penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere, not the Northern Hemisphere. Several passengers complained all the “foreigners” on board, a reference to the international crews which are typical of cruise ships.

One couple from Long Island, New York embodied the ugly travelers who complained so much about everything that it's a puzzlement why they travel at all. If they wanted everything to be just as it is back at home, then at home is where they should have stayed. For example at lunch they took one look at the tortellini they had ordered and without so much as a bite announced that they did not like the 'spaghetti' and would not eat it. They also complained about the 'stupid metric system' and the 'bogus dollars' in Canada. As an engineer, the metric system is 2nd nature to me, and I also jokingly offered to take all the Canadian currency they did not want. They had little concept or tolerance of the outside world, or anything outside New York for that matter.

However, such clueless passengers were more amusing than annoying, and they were definitely few and far between. Again we must emphasize that most passengers were utterly delightful persons who entered into the spirit of adventure on the cruise and tried to appreciate their surroundings. It felt like part of a friendly community at sea. We even exchanged addresses with 2 or 3 other couples, and we have already exchanged letters with them.

Day 7, Sunday 21 June: New York, New York; arrive 8:00 AM

Debarkation proceeded smoothly. Our large pieces of luggage were packed and in the hallway by 1:00 AM. The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise as we sailed New York Bay and the Hudson River to the pier. After breakfast, we waited in a common area until United States Customs clearance was announced at 10:00 AM. In half an hour we located our luggage in the terminal, retrieved our van from the car park and were on our way.

Epilogue, Sunday & Monday, 21 & 22 June: Interstate 80, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois

Once again we divided our drive into 2 days: 500 miles the first day with an overnight in Elyria, Ohio; then 300 miles the next day to our home in Illinois. Along the way we enjoyed the scenery as we reminisced about the wonderful cruise we had just taken. This itinerary was a great way to sample the northeast United States and southeast Canada. It was fun to try a modest ship and an unusual but fascinating itinerary for a change. Now back at home in the period between our 2 national holidays, Canada Day 1 July to Independence Day 4 July, it seems appropriate to look back upon our cruise, assemble our 200 photos into our album and compile this review.

What next? After this cruise in northern North America, our next cruise will be in scenic southern South America. In December we will fly to Santiago, Chile and 2 days later board a ship in Valparaíso. Then we will sail down the Pacific Coast of Chile via Puerto Montt, southern fjords, Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan to Cape Horn. Next we will cruise up the Atlantic Coast of Argentina from Tierra del Fuego via Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This cruise will also visit Stanley, Falkland Islands and Montevideo, Uruguay. We heartily enjoyed our first experience of the Southern Hemisphere in southeast Australia last year. Now we look forward to another voyage south of the Equator and south of the Tropic of Capricorn in Chile and Argentina.

An interesting coincidence: In June we were at sea in the Atlantic Ocean between Nova Scotia and New York during the northern summer solstice. Similarly, in December we will be at sea in the Pacific Ocean along the coast of central Chile during the southern summer solstice. One cruise always seems to lead to the next, as it should be.

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