As a cruise veteran, I am often asked by friends and acquaintances to identify my favorite ship. As many of you know, this is not an easy question to answer. I have enjoyed nearly every ship on which I have traveled, and each had its positive, as well as negative, aspects.
There are some ships, however, that stand out in my mind for special reasons. Our first cruise, for example, will always be memorable as it set the standard. Another was notable as we enjoyed it with extended family. And, several other ships held great appeal as they kept calling me back for some inexplicable reason.
And, then there was SS OceanBreeze.
As I write this column today, Imperial Majesty's SS OceanBreeze has reached the shores of Bangladesh, where her 49-year-old hull is to be converted to scrap metal. This has, undoubtedly, led me to reflect on the wonderful time we had aboard this fine ship and the significance she holds for me.
You see, it was SS OceanBreeze that marked a number of turning points in my love for cruise ships, both personally and semi-professionally.
Regular readers of The SeaLetter Cruise Magazine are aware that I have a penchant for 1950s-era ocean liners that were later converted into cruise ships. This fondness actually began onboard SS OceanBreeze in 1996, which was then operated by Dolphin Cruise Line. At that time, cruising on a ship of that age was not all that uncommon as Premier and Commodore were also still in business. However, the availability of such ships was dwindling as the mega-ship explosion was in its early stages.
While SS OceanBreeze was not our first 1950s liner, it was the first time that I gained an appreciation for ships of this era. We booked SS OceanBreeze with the realization that upcoming regulations (Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS) could take the ship out of service within a few years. So, I did something prior to this cruise that I had never done before -- I researched the ship's history in order to get as much out of that likely one-time ship experience as possible. I learned a number of interesting facts about this 21,000 GRT liner, originally built as Shaw Savill's Southern Cross. She was designed to undertake four around-the-world voyages per year, she was one of the first liners to be christened by a reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth II), and was the first to carry passengers only (no cargo). Most significantly, she was the first major liner to have her engines and stack placed aft, which was a radical departure from the norm in those days. This allowed for increased deck space, and the trend caught on quickly. And, it continues to be adopted on nearly all new cruise ships today.
Once I returned from SS OceanBreeze, I continued my research and compared interior photos of the 1955 Southern Cross and her later incarnations (Calypso and Azure Seas) to the 1996 OceanBreeze. Some of the differences were astounding, while others were more subtle. Having been on the ship brought new life to these old photographs, and I became fascinated with the history of passenger ships. Thus, a new hobby was born -- the study of the evolution of cruise ship design -- and we even had to purchase a new bookcase to hold all of my newfound reference materials.
SS OceanBreeze holds fond memories for other reasons. Hands down, the chefs prepared the best food we have ever had on a ship. (Nearly a decade later, I still recall the marvelous buckwheat crepes.) This was also the ship on which we experienced our first itinerary change due to a storm, and the crew handled it with such aplomb that we did not feel as if we missed out on any adventures. This was also the first time I truly admired the external lines of my ship, and I have several rolls of film to prove it.
Perhaps most significant was that our cruise on SS OceanBreeze was so enjoyable that I felt the need to share it with others. This led to the first article I ever wrote for The SeaLetter -- SS OceanBreeze -- opening up a new chapter in my life. The rest, as they say, is history.
One final thought on OceanBreeze was that she was a feisty little ship. During the aforementioned storm, she held on ferociously, rocking us from side to side as other ships in the vicinity bounced their way along the rough seas. Her feistiness stayed with her until the last of her days, when she refused to go to the breakers without a fight. Upon nearing Alang, her original destination for scrapping, she took on water and listed severely. Unfortunately, she was righted and was sold to breakers at another location. But I have to give her credit for attempting to defy the torches in order to remain as one with the sea indefinitely. I only wish it had worked.
Now that I have traveled on other liners and cruise ships, I can appreciate OceanBreeze a lot more. The open decks, the single-class structure, and several other features that are part of today's cruising experience, began on this fine ship when she was brought into service in 1955. Even so, when we first booked our cruise on OceanBreeze, I knew relatively little of her grand history. In other words, we viewed the ship as OceanBreeze and not a modernized Southern Cross. As OceanBreeze, she had all amenities we had come to expect on our previous cruises on modern ships. Service, food, and other aspects of the cruise were all top-notch and contributed greatly to my fond recollections. This is the OceanBreeze I shall always remember, and the OceanBreeze to which I bid a reluctant farewell.
Lisa Plotnick, a writer who lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and young son, has written many SeaLetter Cruise Magazine articles, cruise ship reviews and book reviews. Lisa is a fan of the classic liners, unfortunately a dying breed in the early 21st century. The Plotnicks have cruised once or twice a year for the past twelve years and have been on most of the major cruise lines as well as several lesser-known lines.
Lisa is a SeaLetter Columnist and also assists in the management of the SeaLetter Cruise Forum. She may be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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