Monday, January 24, 2005

Around The World

What do the Roman Goddess of Dawn and the British word shambolic have in common? (In case you are wondering, shambolic describes something that is completely out of control, totally hopeless and utterly mismanaged – the Brits do have a way with English.) Back to the question. At first glance, the tranquillity and beauty of the dawn and the chaos and upset of the shambolic have little in common. However, they can each be described by another word that is used in both Latin and English: aurora.

This particular Aurora is a cruise ship operated by P&O, which is an arm of Carnival Cruise Lines. She flies under the British flag, weighs about 76,000 tons, and has 939 passenger cabins. According to P&O, this is a really happy ship. ‘In many ways, your life on board as a P&O Cruise passenger is very much what you want it to be. If you're looking for total peace, calm and relaxation, you'll find it. If you're looking for entertainment, nightlife and adventure you'll find that too. The fact is, most people want a bit of both and P&O Cruises are only too happy to oblige.’ Notice that the corporate blurb does not say ‘If you’re looking to actually go someplace, you’ll get there too’.

It all started four years ago when a member of the British Royal Family, the Princess Royal, said ‘I christen thee Aurora’ and swung the bottle of bubbly toward the bow. The bottle didn’t break; it fell into the water. In the modern world, superstition and the wrath of the gods is laughed at. In Aurora’s world, the omen of an unbroken bottle of 1999 Chateau Chirac sliding toward the bottom is a big deal. Neptune, Roman God of the Sea decided then and there to screw Aurora every chance he got – and Roman Gods are really good at screwing.

On her maiden voyage, Aurora broke down and the cost of compensation to the passengers was £6 million – that’s about $10 million in colonial money. The next cruise was the ‘dream of a lifetime’ experience for passengers. About 600 of them came down with a virus, two of them died, and the Aurora picked up the catchy nickname ‘the plague ship’. Fearing a return of the plagues that wiped out most of Europe in the 14th Century, Spain closed its borders with Gibraltar. A lot more £’s and $’s followed the champaign bottle into the briny deep. When it comes to screwing, Neptune makes the guys at Enron seem like absolute, rank amateurs.

Now, in an attempt to break the curse of the Sea God, and to make up a bit of the money that he flushed from the corporate coffers, the Aurora has just returned from an around the world cruise. Tickets for this 103 day adventure started at £9000. For that price you get a monogrammed oar. The average price was £12,000 and went up to £42,000 – that’s as much Colonial money as was needed to buy one complete ticket to President Bush’s Inaugural Taco and Enchilada Ball. The only problem is that ‘around the world’ was a bit misleading. The planned itinerary was to sail from England to Brazil, around South America and across the Pacific to South-East Asia. After San Francisco and the Panama Canal, a quick run across the Atlantic would deliver the happy passengers back to Britain. In fact, thanks to a broken engine, ‘around the world’ turned out to be a 110 mile, 10 day cruise to an oil refinery on the Isle of Wight. (Public Service Notice: One can take the 14:05 from London Waterloo to the Isle of Wight, arriving at 16:22. A first class open return, allowing for the 10 days journey duration, costs £106.20. Waking up to the view of the refinery is free and provides a complimentary shambolic dawn.)

As a suggestion, P&O may think about offering a lot more £9,000 tickets and a lot less £42,000 pound tickets. For starters, that is a lot less money to give back in refunds. It also means that the ratio of passengers with oars to passengers shoveling caviar and swilling gin is in Aurora’s favor. At this point Aurora needs all the help she can get. On the other hand, why not just toss the Princess Royal into the Channel. Neptune does have a temper, but he might get over it if he has a go with a princess.

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