Stories from passengers
(San Francisco – California)
Passenger: Andrew Bryant
Dates of travels: 28 April 1973 (Raffaello),
July 1975 (last Michelangelo’s crossing)
Liner: Raffaello e Michelangelo
Route: New York – Italy / Italy – New York
“When I was young, my family traveled to Europe every few years by ship, as my mother was not fond of flying. After several crossing on the S.S. France, we sailed on our first Italian Line ship, the Cristoforo Colombo, in the summer of 1972. My mother was hooked immediately by the warmth of service and charm of the crew.
We sailed the next year, April 28th, 1973 on The Raffaello, and met the Late Carroll O’Connor and his wife Nancy, as well as their late son, Hugh. My brother and I spent the entire crossing with Hugh, playing and getting into trouble, and having a wonderful time. Alan Bates was also on that crossing. It was a truly magical experience, even for a nine year old. My brother James, Hugh and I would take “penny” tours of the ship, by flipping a coin whenever we came to a juncture- heads we went left or up, tails we went right or down. From First Class we ventured into both Cabin and Tourist Classes, and even in to the crew areas. Total freedom for us- it was wonderful. After a month in Europe, we returned early that Summer on the second half of a European Cruise on the Raffaello, and, once again, had a wonderful and memorable experience.
For some reason, we didn’t travel in 1974, but my mother took a cruise on the Raffaello to Barbados in the Spring of 1975, and found out the ship would dock in New York and then take her last crossing to Genoa. Too late for that trip, my mother immediately booked us on the Michaelangelo for her final crossing, I believe a month later. Again, we reveled in the ship and its food, service and style. The departure from New York Harbor was amazing, with fire boats and streamers and flotillas of small yachts escorting us out of the harbor. I still have the miniature metal model that we won in some children’s group activity. I also still have decks of playing cards in a pinkish color.
The story that I tell the most from that trip is the story of the Duchess of Windsor. My mother insisted on second seating, but, not typical of the line, was met with frosty stares when requesting late seating with two pre-teens in tow. My mother prevailed, but we were seated off in a far corner of the dining room. The first night, the Maitre d’ realized his mistake. Yes, he had given us a table far off in a corner, but he’d forgotten that the Duchess of Windsor and her companion were also seated in that far off corner. He hovered solicitously for the first few nights, until he realized that we weren’t going to hurl spit balls at the other passengers, and that we at least had rudimentary table manners, and would not bother the Duchess.
Over the course of the crossing, the Duchess and her companion took keen interest in my brother’s and my table manners. When we would spill salad dressing on our ties, they would both lean forward to watch, and then nod approvingly as we dabbed our ties with water. It made both of us a little jumpy, until the Duchess arrived on night with large pearl earrings surrounded with diamonds. One was gray, the other white, and I remember feeling quite superior that at least I would have noticed something like THAT. (it was many years later, when her jewels were auctioned off, that I realized the earrings WERE a pair) My brother and I would run off soon after eating our rum cake, and leave my mother to enjoy her coffee and wine. She eventually struck up a conversation with the Duchess about their dislike of flying, and asked her what she would do when the last liner was gone. The Duchess replied that she would either take tramp freighters, or stay on whichever side of the Atlantic she ended up. I believe that to have been the Duchess’ last crossing.
The following year, we took a cruise of the Mediterranean on the Leonardo Da Vinci, and it was our last Italian Line trip. I remember hearing about the ships and their fates, and being very sad. Years later, cruising on the Crystal Harmony, I met Bill Miller, the ship historian, and it was wonderful to relive those childhood memories again. Modern cruises are fun, but don’t compare with the elegance and style that these ships had”.
San Francisco, California