Late last year Premier Cruise Lines announced a new project to launch a fleet of "Big Red Boats" to sail from the four corners of the United States; New York, Florida, Houston and Los Angeles. The project involves taking ships from the existing fleet, older ships that have been in service for decades already, and refurbishing them in a style that appeals to families. One of the ships, originally built for Costa many years ago and sailing most recently as the Edinburgh Castle has now been transformed into the Big Red Boat II.
I received an invitation from Premier Cruises to attend the debut of the new Big Red Boat II in New York City last Monday night, and I was curious to see how they treated the classic ship that had served with distinction for so many years. All I can say is that I hope Premier can handle an actual cruise better than it handled this event. What should have been an impressive and splashy re-launch of Premier's Big Red Boat product turned out to be a less than glamorous evening spent wandering amongst construction debris, traipsing across dirty floors and stepping over rolls of carpeting on a ship with no air conditioning, failing electricity and faulty engines. Yes, the Big Red Boat II was PUSHED up the Hudson River earlier in the morning from Brooklyn by three tugs as she had no working engines at the time.
When we arrived at the pier we noticed enormous plumes of steam hissing and howling from her port side stack as she blew off steam from her boilers. At least check-in was quick, and the friendly staff seemed very upbeat and eager to show us their new ship. Once aboard, however, there was a noticeable lack of air conditioning due to the fact that the engines had failed and the ship was operating off of her emergency generators; which seemed to be failing themselves.
We started our tour by visiting the expansive new children's facilities, still unfinished, and then proceeded on to view some cabins. While the corridors had beautiful new carpet, they were rather dim and had a peculiar odor about them. In fact, wherever we went there was a pervasive and invasive mixture of adhesive and another musty odor. The same could be said for the cabins. All of the cabins we viewed were freshly refurbished but rather plain and uninspired in terms of decor. Due to the ship's age, many of them are paneled in dark wood and only have small portholes, conspiring to make them seem smaller than they are and somewhat uninviting. Brighter, cheery fabrics of a higher quality would do these cabins quite a bit of good.
As for the public areas, many have been refurbished while others remain dated and drab. Overall, the ship lacks a quality or sophisticated feel due to this disjointed array of public areas. And yes, many of the areas were dirty and hot, and had the same "peculiar odor" probably due to their unfinished state.
There were a few bright spots. One area that deserves praise for a "job well done" is the extremely inviting Seafarer's Saloon. It's small and clubby; a pleasant English Pub atmosphere with rich warm colors and wood laminates.
Also deserving of praise is the gaggle of energetic, upbeat, friendly and enthusiastic Youth Staff aboard. I can't help feeling sorry for these mostly college age kids after seeing the conditions they are working in, what a way to start off your summer. But I believe your kids would have a blast and be in great hands with these folks.
That is, if and when this ship ever sails. Premier has since cancelled the June 3rd inaugural sailing due to the mechanical problems. Premier seems to have a real knack for picking ships with mechanical problems. Another Premier ship, the Sea Breeze had a major mechanical breakdown in NYC two summers ago, more minor maladies last summer and suffered through an embarrassing winter season of mechanical breakdowns and cancelled cruises from Fort Lauderdale.
One area that concerned me greatly was the lackadaisical attention to safety while I was on board. Construction debris was everywhere and decks were heaped with carpet fragments, cans of flammable solvents, paint and adhesives. Rolls of carpet or improperly laid carpet blocked fire doors. Then there was the two-deck cinema, which was stacked to the ceiling with life jackets and flammable mattresses. The area was not cordoned off or secured, merely an orange "no smoking" sign at the entrance. I shudder at the thought of the disaster Premier and the city of New York would have on their hands if this area caught fire. And during the evening on board, not a single officer or senior staff member was to be found to answer questions about or address the issues at hand.
I can see that Premier has the potential to provide a good, consistent, budget-priced product and that with work and attention to detail this Big Red Boat II has the potential to be a good ship. However, until Premier manages to get a firm grip on its operational oversights and gets its aging fleet into proper operating order, I would strongly advise any prospective passengers to book with caution. I would also strongly urge that any passengers purchase third party insurance that covers for supplier default and any agent that sells Premier to insist that clients purchase said insurance.