Renaissance Cruises Bankruptcy:
10 Years Later
A passenger's story from September 25, 2001
ABOVE: An "R"-class ship of Renaissance Cruises,
circa 2001. INSET BELOW: A lifejacket couldn't save our cruise--or Renaissance.
Dateline: September 25, 2011
Ten years today, Cheryl
and I were on the M/V R7 of Renaissance Cruises when the line
declared bankruptcy. Here's a personal account of what happened:
In the summer of 2001, Brad Ball--then the Director of
Public Relations for Renaissance--invited us to sample an "R"-class ship
of Renaissance Cruises, which had a fleet of eight midsize ships (see photo above) and several
smaller vessels. I was to write about the cruise for my European travel site at
About.com, where Cheryl and I were "Guides" at the time. (I wrote about
Europe and Venice; Cheryl was the Guide for Switzerland and Austria.)
We chose voyage R7010921, an 8-night itinerary from Dover,
England to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Le Havre, St. Peter Port, Bordeaux, La Coruña,
Porto, and Lisbon. We were to catch a Renaissance charter flight from New
York's JFK to Dover on Friday, September 21.
On September 11, 2001, Al-Quaeda terrorists flew airplanes
into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field near
A few days later, Brad Ball phoned to say that the
terrorist attacks had led to some cancellations, so he was upgrading us from a
standard cabin to an Owner's Suite. Having never slept in a ship's cabin without
bunk beds, we protested that an Owner's Suite was too fancy for simple folks
like us, but Brad was adamant: "This is a great chance to experience our
suites," he said, so we resigned ourselves to 8 nights of luxury at sea.
When we boarded the R7 on September 22, we
learned that there had been a lot of cancellations: about 300 for our cruise
on the 678-passenger R7, and possibly thousands throughout the Renaissance
fleet. The ship was sailing half-full, but the passengers--who had refused to be
frightened away by terrorists--were in a good mood (albeit with one somber moment
during a visit to Canterbury Cathedral before our departure, where the church
authorities had set up an impromptu memorial to September 11's victims).
We sailed from Dover at 6 p.m. on Saturday,
September 22, reaching Amsterdam the next morning. Because Brad had asked us to
try a handful of shore excursions, we we took a "Windmills and Cheeses" tour.
That evening, the ship departed for Zeebrugge, where we took a bus into Bruges
after our arrival the next morning.
On Tuesday, we arrived in Le Havre,
where we sampled a "Romantic Honfleur" tour before returning to the port city
which we'd visited on the S.S. France,
the Mikhail Lermontov, and the Alexandr Pushkin in earlier
That night (September 25, 2001) the R7
sailed from Le Havre at 9:00 p.m.
A little after 10 p.m., I felt the ship turn
to starboard, which seemed odd when our next port was to the south in Guernsey.
I turned on the TV and switched to the navigation channel, where a GPS-based map
showed the ship's position and course. We were heading north. I said to Cheryl,
"It looks like we're going back to Dover." Something obviously was afoot, and
the situation became more mysterious when the navigation map suddenly
disappeared from the TV screen.
While Cheryl had a
shower, I went upstairs to the Internet room and checked my e-mail. I had a
(About.com's former Air Travel Guide) that asked, "Durant, did you know that
Renaissance Cruises has gone bankrupt?"
When I opened the Renaissance Web
site, I saw a terse bankruptcy announcement. A few minutes later, I encountered
the ship's social director and a magician in the elevator. "Has the crew been
told that Renaissance has declared bankruptcy?" I asked. They were shocked and
headed off to see what they could find out.
morning, we woke up to an announcement by the captain over the PA system in our
cabin. He explained that the line was bankrupt. The ship would be arriving in
Dover shortly, where it would be "arrested" and held for the creditors.
told that we could go ashore upon arrival, but that we should be back on board
by 6 p.m. Nobody knew yet whether we'd be transported back to the United States or simply dumped on
the pier with our luggage in the next day or two. (We were even warned of the
possibility that the creditors might refuse to let us back on the ship and seize
our personal belongings.)
was better (at least for passengers) than we'd feared: That evening, we were
told us that we'd be flown to New York by charter jet the next day, and
members of the crew would be repatriated to their home countries.
Dinner was emotional for passengers and crew alike. As we entered the dining
room, I pushed an envelope of cash into the Portuguese maitre d's hand for the
serving staff, since the purser had warned that tips charged on credit cards
(the usual procedure) would likely be seized by the creditors. The maitre d'
shook my hand and asked solemnly, "May I kiss your wife?" Cheryl accepted a wet
smooch on the neck graciously before we were led to our table.
evening, the entertainment staff--who had been told not to put on a show, since
they wouldn't be paid--went ahead and performed anyway, to rousing applause and
tears all around.
note: We were scheduled to have dinner at the captain's table, but
earlier in the day, we'd received the following letter:
During our final morning on board, several members of the buffet staff were sniffling or weeping
at breakfast, but they gamely served up the usual array of food choices.
Later, on the pier, other crew members loaded passengers' suitcases onto the
buses that would take us to Gatwick Airport. There were many hugs, handshakes,
and farewells between passengers and crew.
years have passed since Renaissance Cruises went bankrupt. Today, the R7 and its sister ships
are still cruising in the livery of other cruise companies:
Cruises acquired three of the ships (R1, R2, and R5,
renamed the Regatta, Insignia, and Nautica), one of
which--the Regatta--I reviewed
here at Europe for Cruisers.
The R3 and R4 became the Ocean Princess and
Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises, the
R6 became Azamara Journey, the R8 is now P&O's Adonia, and the
R7--the vessel on our ill-fated voyage--is now the Azamara Quest of
Other things changed after
September 25, 2001:
We were fired by About.com on that same day--probably because we'd questioned the company's accounting practices, which
led to a successful class-action
lawsuit by About.com Guides.
Within weeks, we'd launched our current
site, Europeforvisitors.com, which is now one of the leading independent
travel-planning sites on the Web.
Brad Ball went on to become a Media Relations
executive for Silversea Cruises, and
we met him in person for the first time on a
cruise less than a year after the Renaissance brand sank beneath the
We've often wondered what happened to our
Portuguese maitre d', our French stewardess and Macedonian steward, and other crew from
the R7. We hope they found employment elsewhere, and we continue to be
impressed by how bravely and nobly the R7's staff comported themselves
after losing their jobs without warning in September, 2001.
BELOW: Cheryl Imboden on the
balcony of R7's cabin 6088.
Top photo: Renaissance Cruises.