Royal Viking Sun was scheduled to call on 22 November 1996, and we headed down to Durban to see her. Originally built in 1988 for Royal Viking Line, she was currently carrying the same name, but with Cunard branding. It was a confusing period in her history, but it is better explained on her website
As usual she was an early arrival, and I can see we went out on the pilot boat to drop off a pilot.
She was not a pretty ship, almost a bit top heavy and bulky, I think stretching may have improved her looks. She did however have a well deserved reputation as being a top ship in the world, and the prices for voyages on her reflected that reputation.
She had been in South Africa before, although on that occasion Royal Viking Line was still in operation. Once we had completed our pilot boating for the morning we dashed across to Ocean Terminal to do some photography. It can be quite a race to be there before the ship, fortunately they often swung the vessel before bringing her alongside while we would be navigating our way over speed bumps, security guards, railway lines and potholes, all the while trying to see where the ship was. Sometimes we got dropped off at the quayside by the pilot boat, although that usually meant we would have to hoof it back to where the car was parked.
I seem to recall there was somewhat of a ruction on board the pilot boat because the ship was not flying the courtesy flag, and of course people were muttering about getting hold of the APC and chasing her out of the harbour. The situation was remedied though, so no harm was done.
By now I think we were in the “lets change clothes quickly” mode for when we went ship visiting, and naturally would have used the dirtiest toilets in Durban for the purpose (the smell had to be seen to be believed, it was the sort of smell that had a life of its own, and that held down a steady job and had kids and attended church on a Sunday). Once on board we headed our own way, I know we had seen pics of her forward lounge and there had been a lot of pre-publicity about the ship in the local rag. The one thing I do recall about her was that she had a huge dining room, big enough to seat all the passengers in a single seating. That dining room was one whole deck!
I have to admit she was beautiful on board, really tastefully decorated and overall well maintained. The promenade deck was an attraction for me because I am a sucker for a prom deck.
Whereas the pool area did not really do much for me, but then I am not the type who finds lounging by the pool a lot of fun (that’s why we have promenade decks).
The visit was not particularly memorable, but that’s because you spend so little time on board and it is a rush to see everything as quick as possible, added to that the almost 6 hour road trip ahead of us in the middle of the night. I know, we must have been crazy, but looking back so many years later I can say that I am glad I did saw some of these ships because the amount of classics still afloat is small, at the time of writing she is now almost considered a classic ship.
Royal Viking Line is but a memory, and they had a wonderful reputation for efficiency and service. Their ships were always immaculate, and oddly enough during those dry days when we had almost no callers in our waters there was a Royal Viking Ship calling. I don’t know where they went wrong, it is possible that catering for the market that they did meant that they did not have mass appeal. However, the legacy that they left behind is surprisingly big with all of their ships still afloat and in service somewhere. How many other cruise lines can boast of that accomplishment?
Then it was time for us to get off as the ship started to embark passengers and those who had gone on tours around Durban. The weather was still quite good so it did hold out for a semi decent sailing.
Unfortunately though, the light was going fast as she swung from the quayside, and by the time she came into the channel it was becoming very difficult to photograph her with the low light.
And then she was gone. And there was no more reasons left for us to remain behind. So we headed off home.
Since 2002 Royal Viking Sun was operated by Holland America Line as Prinsendam. She does look better with the darker hull and the bulk is less noticeable.
In 2018 Prinsendam was sold to Phoenix Reisen but chartered back to HAL, and operated scheduled cruises until 1 July 2019. On 2 July 2019 she sailed to Blohm+Voss in Hamburg for conversion and on 12 August 2019 she left Hamburg for Bremerhaven for her first cruise on 16 August 2019 with Phoenix under the name Amera.
The Royal Viking Line is no more, but the legacy of their ships does live on. They were an upmarket cruise line and had very modern and pricey vessels. They also called in South Africa, usually on round Africa voyages. One of their new buildings was Royal Viking Queen, and we had an invite to see her.
My trusty ship visit book lists her as calling in Durban on 28 November 1992, and we were there when she arrived.
First impressions were of a small modern ship, and not really the sort of ship that would appeal to somebody like me who prefers something more traditional. She was built as one of 3 sisters, for Seabourn Cruises, (Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Pride), but she ended up being completed for Royal Viking instead as Royal Viking Queen.
She had not been in service very long either, so we would get a good look at her workmanship too. The visit had been arranged beforehand, and we were well prepared with a plaque to present to the Master on the occasion of the call, and I often wonder if it still exists somewhere.
Once on board our jaws dropped because she was stunning. Very modern, but done with good taste. We had been given a small press pack to aid us on our walking tour of her, but as usual we headed down below and worked our way upwards,
The one pervading memory I have of her was a lobby that was painted to resemble a four funnel liner, if you looked forward you would see 2 funnels, and if you looked aft the remaining 2 funnels. It was very well done and I really regret not having pics of it.
Her upper decks were clean and shiney with chrome and glass and light woodwork, there was more of a feel of yacht to her as opposed to a ship, and I believe that was the original intention.
On her foredeck was a Jacuzzi that must have been quite nice although it was literally on the front porch of the bridge and the forward suites. She also had a platform that could be lowered from her stern for people to enjoy water sports in ports where she did not go alongside.
She was really a pretty ship inside, but I think she may have been somewhat stuffy for anybody that did not come from the right background. The master was impressed with our plaque and handed us each a Royal Viking keyring as a memento, but alas, a burglary in 1999 saw most of my collection of those mementos stolen. I also recall that he had injured his hand and was very apologetic about the many plasters that his hand was covered in.
And then it was time for us to leave, and we hung around to watch her sail. The sun was starting to go down by then so we got those low light shots so beloved of Durban in good weather.
She was quite a sight sailing from Durban, the sort of ship that you wish you could sail on, but know you will never be able to afford to.
I never saw her again after that, however in 2008 while in Hong Kong, I saw her sister: Seabourn Spririt.
She is still afloat somewhere, and as far as I am aware sailing under the name Seabourn Legend, having returned to the company that she was originally ordered for. She is due to enter service with Windstar in May 2015. Royal Viking Line ceased to exist in 1994. However, all of their ships are still in service.