Monday 23 June 2008


david ellis

DOUGLAS Ward doesn't look the sort of bloke who'd have grown business men biting their nails, considering bribes or ultimately taking to the drink.

But when this trim 63-year old has something to say, folks in cruise industry boardrooms world-wide take notice: a few of his carefully chosen words can mean the difference between them riding the crest of the wave, or languishing in the trough.

And for cash-paying cruise-goers, reason enough to switch from one ship to another.

Mr Ward is author of the cruise industry "bible," the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, a massive 500,000 word tome that's the most authoritative guide to what are the world's best ocean-going cruise ships.

His life-long love affair with the sea began as a ten-year old when he would ride his bike from where he lived near England's Bournemouth to Southampton, to stare in fascination at its procession of great liners: Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Caronia, Mauretania, Pendennis Castle, Oriana…

And while he eventually got a job at sea, it was not as a crewman or officer, but as bandleader in the First Class Verandah Grill of the grand 83,600-tonne Queen Elizabeth.

Bandleader Ward became increasingly fascinated with what made ships tick, in particular their "back of house" operations, and worked his way through varying roles with Cunard (he rose to be their Cruise Director,) Fred Olsen Line, P&O, Royal Mail Lines, Shaw Savill and Union Castle Lines, eventually giving up 17-year at sea in 1982.

That decision followed chats with some cruise passengers about differing standards of cruise lines and cruise ships, and resulted in them forming the International Cruise Passengers Association of which Douglas Ward was President for ten years.

The Association's newsletter Porthole caught the eye of Swiss travel-product and language company Berlitz, that asked him to create a cruise ship evaluation guide under its name.

"Our Association by then had over 4000 members and I could see the potential of what Berlitz had in mind," Ward says. "It took me 18-months to write the first 250-page Berlitz Guide in 1984 that reviewed 120-ships.

"It was to be updated every three years, but in 1990 Berlitz decided to publish it annually… its 710 pages and 500,000 words simply cannot be expanded any further."

Douglas Ward spends 200 days at sea or in cruise industry meetings every year, and has logged a total 5,400 days (that's nearly 15-years) sailing a-near 1,000 cruises to 1,800 ports, yet he's the antithesis of the overweight regular cruise-goer – because he eats to enjoy, not for eating's sake.

He is the Berlitz Guide, although five associates occasionally review select ships for him.

"We allocate points for a ship's overall impression, its hardware, accommodations, food (including any increases or reductions in portions,) beverages, service, ambience, hygiene and cleanliness, condition of 'cruise experience' and expedition equipment, maintenance, things like stains, how often housekeeping is undertaken, chocolates on the pillow, even that everything's in its right place.

"And while many checks are undertaken with officers or crew while cruising, much of my job is purely observation when others are not around."

The most points a ship can earn is 2000, with the German-language-only Europa closest with 1860; following closely behind are, mega 55-couples motor-cruisers for which Mr Ward created a special category of "utterly exclusive."

Knowing that what the Berlitz Guide says can be crucial to cruise lines, has he ever been offered a bribe to say the right thing?

"I've been offered fine wines, flowers and one owner had his personal suite totally re-painted for me before I went aboard – I had to spend four nights amid the stench of fresh paint! Another had their lawyers dispute my evaluation until I told them I'd found a pile of chicken in the kitchen next to an open tin of varnish… the lawyers suddenly dropped out."

Little wonder as the release of each year's Berlitz Guide nears, for some cruise company board members it can mean restive nights, nail biting and ultimately taking to that drink – in celebration or commiseration.

And Douglas Ward's last word on modern cruising? "To see better facilities for handicapped passengers, and in this age of less formality, while casual is OK when cruising, sloppy certainly is not."



. DOUGLAS Ward aboard SeaDream II in the Caribbean earlier this year – just one of 200 cruises he'll take in 2008.

. THE big and the small all come under Mr Ward's scrutiny: here Freedom of the Seas dwarfs SeaDream II.

Photos: SeaDream Yacht Club and David Ellis

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