Editor's Note: MV Discovery is no longer part of the Cruise & Maritime Voyages fleet, having been sold by its parent company in October 2014.
Along with the QE2 and Titanic, the MV Discovery must be among the most familiar looking passenger ships in the world. As the former Island Princess, she was the sister ship of the old Pacific Princess, TV's "Love Boat," and even stood in for her more famous and almost identical sibling on some episodes.
I love this ship. It was built during a time when vessels had graceful lines, when staterooms were designed to fit the shape of the ship and not manufactured in mass quantities, and it should be declared a historical landmark. A superb refit in 2003 has retained most of its original charm, and if you didn't know this vessel was more than 35 years old, you'd never guess it by its condition. They really don't make ships like this anymore, and it's a shame.
It has recently been announced that Discovery will enter dry dock later this year and will undergo an extensive refurbishment before entering service under the Cruise & Maritime Voyages brand in 2013. Voyages of Discovery will take delivery of another ship at the end of 2012, the 15,721-ton, 540-passenger mv Voyager. Voyager has undergone a multi-million dollar refit and will enter service in December with 270 cabins, 30 of which have balconies.
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Discovery began its service as the Island Venture in September of 1971 for the Norwegian company Flagship Cruises, where it made the New York-to-Bermuda run. In 1972 it was renamed Island Princess when it joined the Princess fleet, where it stayed until it was sold to the Korean company Hyundai Asian Cruises in 1999. Briefly known as Platinum in 2001, it was bought later that year by Gerry Herrod's Discovery Cruises and launched as their only ship in 2003.
Voyages of Discovery describes itself as a "soft adventure" experience, a way for passengers to go to seldom visited destinations without the rigorous shore excursions and spartan accommodations of the "hard adventure" competitors. Exotic destinations include Greenland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Norway's North Cape, Spitsbergen, the Amazon, Devil's Island, Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island. It is the only non-Ecuadorian cruise ship with a port of call in the Galapagos Islands. It even cruises to Cuba; those trips are marketed only through its British brochures and Web site.
Discovery carries four or five times more passengers than many other excursion ships, but this doesn't tell the whole story. Discovery has a passenger capacity of more than 800, but the line says it never carries more than 650. Further, the Ecuadorian government allows only 500 passengers when it visits the Galapagos.
Passengers come from all corners of the former British Empire. On our cruise, which a spokeswoman for the line said was typical of a winter cruise, more than a third of the passengers were from the United Kingdom, a third were from the U. S. or Canada, and 20 percent were Australian or New Zealanders. She added that summer cruises tended to be about 60 percent British with the remaining balance from those same countries mentioned above.
Cruises are longer than average (10 to 48 nights in the current schedule), and it's no surprise that the great majority of passengers have passed the half-century mark. According to the cruise line, repeat passengers typically comprise 20 to 25 percent of passengers aboard. The exotic destinations and excellent enrichment programs tend to attract a well-traveled and intelligent crowd for which "soft adventure" is adventure enough.
About five percent of the passengers on our cruise were with a tour group from Japan, which I was told is not unusual. There were some announcements in Japanese and a Japanese-language version of the daily program. However, when one Japanese-American passenger who was not a part of that group booking requested copies of this daily program, a group representative refused to give them to her, and only after eventual intervention from the purser's office was the passenger provided with this amenity. I'm surprised that the hotel department took days to rectify the situation, and amazed that the Japanese travel company would go to such lengths to alienate a potential customer.
You can definitely leave the tuxedo and formal wear at home if you want -- comfortable and practical are the order of the day. There was a suggested after-six dress code buried on page three of the daily program, which seemed to be unnoticed or disregarded by a fair number of passengers. Two-thirds of our nights called for "casual" (slacks and sport shirt) dress; with two "informal" (suit or jacket and tie for the men, skirt or "trouser-suit" for the women) nights; and one "formal" (an evening or cocktail dress for women, a dark suit or dinner jacket for men) evening, the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party and Dinner. For the Pirates of South America theme night, a "tropical" (bright or colorful clothing) dress code was also appropriate, with some passengers (obviously the ones who had sailed with the line before) sporting pirate accessories. Arrrgh!
Because many of the destinations are exotic, it pays to do your homework so you'll know what kind of climate(s) to prepare for. We left a winter storm in Philadelphia, flew directly to beautiful summer weather in the 70's in Buenos Aires, then encountered above-freezing temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula -- three different wardrobes required for a two-week trip.