|E-Mail: Raoul Fiebig|
Last updated: 10/15/2003
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Ageing TV stars are often having a hard time. Celebrated, probably world-famous entertainers in the past, they are having problems referring to their previous success. Their often unstoppable decline usually begins when they no longer get lucrative role offers, and some of them end as "star guests" on company fetes or fairs.
Now, why am I telling you all this if this is supposed to be a ship review of the M/V "Discovery"? Well, the "Discovery" is a former TV star. As the "Island Princess" she and her sister ship "Pacific Princess" (now sailing for Spanish operator Pullmantur as the "Pacific") were the world-famous "Love Boat" in the U.S. television series of the same name. Launched on March 6th, 1971 at Rheinstahl Nordseewerke shipyards in Emden, Germany, and christened the "Island Venture" in an Oslo ceremony in December of the same year, the 168.74 meter (553.6 ft.) twin-screw cruise ship had a tonnage of 19,907 grt at the time it entered service with Flagship Cruises on the New York - Bermuda run. After only one year in service, however, the "Island Venture" was chartered by Princess Cruises and renamed the "Island Princess". In 1974, Princess Cruises was acquired by British shipping company P&O, which also purchased the "Island Princess" to make it a permanent member of the Princess fleet. The "Sea Venture", the "Island Princess'" older sister ship, was bought in 1975 and renamed the "Pacific Princess". In the same year, the shooting for the "Love Boat" TV series began, and while the "Pacific Princess" was the show's official star, the "Island Princess" was also used on several occasions. After many successful years as part of Princess Cruises, the then 20,186 gt "Island Princess" left the fleet in 1999 (the "Pacific Princess" followed in 2002). Renamed "Hyundai Pungak", the former "Love Boat" was to transport South Korean pilgrims to the holy mountain of Kumgang in North Korea for its new owners, Hyundai Merchant Marine. The Kumgang tours had been made possible through the Stalinist North's partial opening to visitors. For its new task, the "Hyundai Pungak" was not extensively rebuilt: small Karaoke cabins were set up in the aft panorama lounge and the food offered merely consisted of rice and pickled vegetables. But the all-time low in the ship's career was reached when it was laid up as its service, which was in deficit since its start, was discontinued after only two years.
But at that time the previously popular and famous ship's fate turned to the good side again. Gerry Herrod, the former head of Ocean Cruise Lines, Pearl Cruises and (until he sold it to Norwegian Cruise Line in 1998) Orient Lines acquired the "Hyundai Pungak", and transferred her to Europe under the new name "Platinum" to have her rebuilt. The ship was to be used for Herrod's new firm, Discovery World Cruises, but an agreement was reached with England-based Voyages of Discovery to operate the vessel, renamed "Discovery" in 2003, under charter for mainly British passengers during the summer months. So while the ship cruises Europe during the summer, it visits exotic destinations such as Antarctica, South America or Hawaii during the winter months, when it is operated under the direction of Discovery World Cruises.
On July 10th, 2003 the M/V "Discovery" made a maiden call to the German port of Warnemünde. Thanks to a friendly invitation by Voyages of Discovery I was able to visit the ship that day.
As a passenger, one usually embarks the "Discovery" on Bali Deck and instantly enters the spacious lobby, which spans two decks and looks very familiar for everybody knowing the "Love Boat" TV series. Bright, friendly colors dominate - solely the red banisters which are found throughout the ship look somewhat "cheap". Even at the very first glance, one realizes that despite its small size, the "Discovery" appears by no means cramped, but very spacious and surprisingly modern.
On the lowest passenger deck - named Coral Deck - the Seven Continents Restaurant is situated amidships. Dinner is served in two seatings and the friendly Filipino wait staff make sure that the passengers feel well-cared for. International dishes and - at least on the cruises operated by Voyages of Discovery - traditional British specialties are served on a fairly high level. As an alternative to the main dining room, the Lido Buffet is available. The fact that this is an outdoor-only dining venue is somewhat compensated by the fact that the buffet is not exposed to inclement weather due to a magrodome sliding glass roof. A nice extra is the Yacht Club, which is used as an observation lounge with panoramic views over the bow during daytime. At night it turns into an alternative restaurant in which passengers dine by invitation, so that - depending on the length of the cruise - all passengers should be able to dine there at least once per trip. There is no extra charge!
Compared with larger ships, the "Discovery" of course offers a rather modest range of facilities for her active passengers. But nonetheless, the completely new wellness and fitness center - created from what used to be the officers' mess - leaves a very positive impression. It spans two decks and features a beauty salon, gym, and a good spa section. Additionally, there are two teakwood-paneled outdoor jacuzzis. And with her two swimming pools (one of them with a magrodome) the "Discovery" offers quite a lot for passengers loving to splash around. Sadly, the teakwood outside promenade is not wrap-around, but joggers might use the Sky Deck - one deck above the lido pool area.
Onboard the "Discovery" a generous number of public rooms is available, mostly located on Riviera Deck: From the large Carousel Lounge and the impressive Discovery Lounge with its two-deck-high wall of glass to the cozy night club, there are lots of venues to spend day and night. The Discovery Theatre, which is still in need of an upgrade to the antiquated seating, is used as a cinema and lecture hall. Spacious halls with plenty of seating, the inviting Palm Court and a well-stocked Library complement the offers. Even an internet café has been added.
The vast majority of the cabins on the "Discovery" have ocean views. Fairly inconspicuous as far as the size goes, all cabins received completely new furniture earlier this year. Light wood tones and mostly green fabrics dominate. Yet, the bathrooms still need some attention. The original wall coverings in the passenger areas have already been replaced by new ones in many places, while other areas are yet to be worked on.
For past passengers of Orient Lines' "Marco Polo" (now owned by Norwegian Cruise Line), the ship and company previously owned by Gerry Herrod, it is obvious that Discovery World Cruises has been trying to take over many ideas from that competitor. Furniture and colors in the cabins, deck names, the Filipino service staff and an art collection by artists who are also predominant on the "Marco Polo" speak a clear language. However, at this time the "Discovery" is not yet 100 per cent on par with the "Marco Polo's" very high maintenance level. And of course the lay-up time and the Korean service did not add anything good to the 30-year-old ship's shape. But nonetheless the "Discovery" is by no means in a bad condition but just the opposite: the investments of the past two years pay off and additional changes are planned for the next routine dry-docking. The cruise line knows very well that some public rooms, passenger cabins and hallways still need more investments, but it is obvious that a "newcomer" cannot spend millions and millions of dollars at one time. On the other hand, many areas of the vessel have already been upgraded with lots of passion and leave a very good impression, sporting a fairly modern yet elegant design.
For a first-generation cruise ship, the "Discovery" offers a lot of space. She is roomy and features many public rooms. This ship has a big potential, and one can be sure that her owner will try hard to use it in the future. Particularly remarkable: the "Discovery" not only is a ship, but she also looks like a ship. And in contrast to many modern ships, which obviously try to hide the sea from their passengers, the "Discovery" offers a close contact with the sea through the floor-to-ceiling windows in many public spaces. Solely the dining room, which in the old ocean liner style is situated on one of the lower decks, has portholes instead of large windows. Let's hope that the unusual "Discovery" product will be well-received on the market - Gerry Herrod and his team really deserve it!
Copyright 2003 © Raoul Fiebig