OLD NEWS A strange item in the news section of the Lonely Planet website caught my eye recently. “New in Travel: first ever round-the-world cruise will visit 35 countries in 141 days”, announced the headline. “It sounds like a Jules Verne novel,” began the article beneath, “but the first-ever round-the-world cruise is now actually a reality” – as if such a journey had hitherto only been the stuff of outlandish fiction.
Had I missed something? Perhaps some obscure technicality had rendered every round-the-world cruise since the RMS Laconia’s luxury circumnavigation of 1922-23 officially invalid.
A quick look at the website of Viking Cruises – the operator of this “sensational trip” – and all was revealed: “Join Viking on our first-ever world cruise”. My italics, of course. And, also unnoticed by the Lonely Planet newshound, the cruise ends in London, before the transatlantic crossing required to make it a round-the-world journey.
Although quite unremarkable these days, the first actual round-the-world cruise made more accurate headlines while it was under way for 130 days, from November 1922. Cunard’s RMS Laconia (above) had been chartered by the American Express Company, and sailed with mostly American passengers and British crew from New York. In mid-January, the cruise stopped for a few days in Hong Kong (where one passenger died from pneumonia) before steaming down to Singapore via Manila and Jakarta, which was then known as Batavia.
An article in the January 30, 1923 edition of the Malaya Tribune marvelled at the American tourists’ prodigious spending habits. “Besides the usual quantity of silks and satins, lacquer and china and damascene, pottery and rugs and furniture,” it reported, “the Laconia party left Batavia with twelve show puppies, six parrots, ten cages, each of which contains from two to six love birds, all manner of song birds, six monkeys, and a pair of Pomeranians [...] one man in the party bought the batik trousers that his chauffeur was wearing, and the garment was delivered on the spot.”
Cunard’s RMS Queen Mary 2 will embark on a similar, 134-day round-the-word cruise on January 3 next year. Visit www.cunard.com for details.
MANHATTAN TRANSFERS Known as one of the world’s great hotels since it opened in 1931, the Waldorf Astoria, in New York, will close for much-needed and extensive renovations at the end of next month. China’s Anbang Insurance Group bought the hotel in 2014 for a reported US$1.95 billion – the most expensive hotel purchase ever made. The fact that the Waldorf Astoria is currently rated (at time of writing) 281 out of 462 New York hotels by TripAdvisor must be disappointing for the new owners, and quite embarrassing for its management company, Hilton Worldwide, which sold the hotel to Anbang.
From the same pre-war era as the Waldorf, and just a few blocks south along Park Avenue, The Renwick (above) was recently taken over by Hilton Worldwide, and saddled with a cumbersome name, The Renwick Hotel New York City, Curio Collection by Hilton. The building was once home to John Steinbeck, Thomas Mann, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other literary notables, and contained some artist studios, but was in sorry disrepair as the seedy Hotel Bedford by the time it was closed and then reopened as The Renwick a couple of years ago. See www.therenwickhotelnewyork.com for more.
LONDON CALLING Following a six-year, multimillion-pound renovation of the old Port of London Authority building, near the Tower of London, the magnificent-looking Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square (above) will open for business this month. With only 100 guestrooms and suites, the hotel is offering a 20 per cent discount until the end of April, but it might be hard to get a reservation before then. Visit www.fourseasons.com/tentrinity to give it a go, if you’re heading to London this spring.
DEAL OF THE WEEK A two-night stay in Sanya, on Hainan Island, is offered from HK$1,600 at TLX Travel, with accommodation at the Phoenix Waterside Gloria Resort. For better value, pay an extra HK$1,000 or so to stay at the Marriott Yalong Bay, Sheraton Resort or Grand Hyatt Haitang Bay. For a splurge, take a Pool Villa at the Banyan Tree (above), which starts from HK$4,360. Flights with Cathay Dragon and breakfast are included with the package, which will be available until the end of March. Go to www.tlxtravel.com for more details and reservations.