Stories from passengers
Richard ed Amy Volpe
(Palm Beach – Florida, USAw York – USA)
Passengers: Richard and Amy Volpe
Date of voyages: 5 July 1969 (New York – Genova),
24 July 1969 (Naples – New York)
Liner: Raffaello (eastbound), Michelangelo (westbound)
Route: New York – Genova, Napoli – New York
On June 28, 1969 my wife Amy and I were married. As a wedding gift from my new in-laws, we were given a trip to Europe.
I always had a love for ships so we decided to go over to Europe by ship and, due to time restraints, we would return by air. After reviewing all the liners that were than doing regular trans-Atlantic service, we chose the T/N Raffaello.
On July 5, 1969, we drove to pier 90 on the Hudson River in New York City to board the Raffaello which was to sail at 12 Noon. The view as we drove up in front of the ship was breathtaking. The Raffaello glimmered in the morning sun as if it were a white jewel. When we boarded, we immediately went to our cabin on A deck, number A106 in Cabin Class. My only objection to the cabin was the lack of a porthole. That objection aside, over the next eight days, that cabin became our home and we loved it. Sailing out of New York harbor was fabulous. I stood on the stern of the ship and watched as the Statue of Liberty faded into the horizon.
For the next seven days, we could just indulge ourselves in whatever we felt like doing. We loved the leisurely pace of our meals in the dining room; we enjoyed the company of our four tablemates; we loved meeting with people for late afternoon or pre-diner cocktails in either the Positano Bar or The Rialto lounge.
I remember that as soon as you sat down in the Rialto, a waiter would come over and put down a little dish of slivered almonds. I don’t know how they made those almonds but, to this day, they were the best almonds I have ever tasted. I was completely enthralled with the ship itself. I could spend endless time standing on the stern and looking out at the wake. As an aside, in subsequent years, Amy and I have sailed on some of the largest ships in the world including the Norway and The Queen Mary 2. None of these other vessels ever created a wake as large and beautiful as those of the Raffaello and Michelangelo.
As we requested, we had the second seating in the Ritz Restaurant on the Foyer Deck. We were seated with four other people, all single. Amy and I were the only married couple. The six of us got along famously and dining with them was always an eagerly anticipated event. The food and service were excellent. Our table steward always made sure we had something we truly enjoyed even if it was something not offered on the menu.
The crossing of The Atlantic was beautiful with blue skies and seas like glass. Things changed, however, when we entered the Mediterranean. We encountered rough seas, with waves of 10 to 15 feet which rocked the ship quite a bit. I found that I enjoyed it!
Amy saw how much I loved all aspects of the ship so she arranged for me to take a tour of the engine room. I remember, at one point of the tour, looking up and seeing the starboard propeller shaft eye level and a little above me. It was only then that I realized how far down in the hull I was standing.
Amy and I loved going to see an afternoon movie in the cinema on the upper deck or playing bingo in the Rialto. Just sitting in a deck chair on the enclosed promenade deck and reading a book while looking out at the rolling sea was a treat.
Unfortunately, our table mates disembarked at Algeciras and were replaced by two couples that were traveling together. They were from Germany and spoke only German and very little Italian. I spoke English and even less Italian than they did. Amy spoke only English. The fact that they were friends coupled with the language barrier all but completely excluded us from any conversation. The entire complexion of our dining experience had changed. With the dining room company aside, the balance of the voyage was wonderful with stops at Naples and then Cannes. We could not get off in Cannes but we were allowed a day in Naples. We made friends with a gentleman on board who lived in Naples and he was gracious enough to take us on a tour of the city. He promised to take us places “the tourist don’t (or won’t) go”. He did. After a most “interesting day” in Naples, we once again boarded the Raffaello for the final leg of the trip to Genoa with the short stop at Cannes.
We sailed later that evening and the view of Naples Harbor at night was magical. The following morning we visited the “ufficio Commissario” in the foyer Fornarina. We purchased our rail tickets there for the next phase of our journey from Genoa to Munich, Germany. We were scheduled to pick up a new car at the BMW factory the following day and from there we would continue on a road trip of Europe until late August.
After a two week trip through the Swiss Alps and down into Northern Italy with stops in Florence, Venice, etc., we ended up in Rome. During this entire time we kept talking about how terrific our time at sea on the Raffaello was and how great it would be to just relax like that again.
At that point, we still had another two weeks planned ahead of us on the road with our new car. Our arrival in Rome was greeted with one of the hottest summers in its history and late July is definitely not the time to be walking around in the noon sun. Furthermore, our car and the hotels we were staying in had no air conditioning. We were scheduled to return to New York by air in mid August. The heat, coupled with the rigors of a road trip, prompted us to change our plans in late July and return to the states on the Michelangelo. We missed all the amenities of the Raffaello as well the sheer enjoyment of the ocean voyage.
While strolling on the Via Veneto, we came upon an Italian Line office which had a magnificent model of the Michelangelo in the window. I walked into the office for a better look and started up a conversation with the gentleman at the counter. After a few minutes of talking about how much we loved the Raffaello, I asked him when the next sailing on either ship was to the New York. He said the Michelangelo had already sailed that day from Genoa but would be sailing the following day at Noon from Naples. I inquired if there were any accommodations still available and he told me they had a cabin class room available on A deck but it was in inside cabin. Now knowing that there are no portholes in outside cabins on A deck, I couldn’t see the difference. He worked with me for quite some time arranging the cancellation of our airline tickets and securing our accommodations on the Michelangelo when I said “by the way, I have a car that I want to bring back with me”. After about an hour of further phone calls between the agent and several people, he was able to obtain a spot on the ship for the car. He told me I had to be at the ship by 9:00 AM the following morning in order to assure getting it (and us) on board.
After getting up a 3:30 AM and driving from Rome to Naples, we were indeed at the dock in Naples by 9:00 AM. Amy went on board to make sure everything was alright with our room while I began what would be the most interesting set of negotiations I ever encountered trying to get our car on board. To make a long story short, at 11:50 AM, ten minutes before sailing, I saw the tail lights of my BMW disappear through the garage doors of the Michelangelo.
The negotiations were with the dock workers. In Naples, nothing moves unless you take care of the people in charge. At first, the person in charge of loading the car told me he did not speak English and he could not understand any of my Italian. After handing him several hundred lira, miraculously he could understand my Italian and, amazingly, his English improved also.
Getting all the papers signed and talking to all the necessary people took an agonizingly long period of time. Every person I spoke to had the same problem understanding me but when I produced some lira, the communication problem ended. Remember, I started this process before 9:00 AM and I finally got the car on the ship at about 11:50 AM, only ten minutes before the scheduled sailing time.
When I drove the car up the ramp to the garage door of the Michelangelo, I had to get out of the car and let a crew member from the ship drive it into the garage. When I got out of the car on the ramp, I was told by the dock worker standing on the top of the ramp that I was missing a signature on one of the documents so he would not release the car. The Italian line crew member who was waiting to drive the car on board heard this and he immediately began a heated argument with the dock worker in Italian. They were speaking so fast (and loud) that I could not understand all of it but I understood enough to realize that the crew member, on my behalf, told him that, in the first place the signature was not required and, secondly, they had extorted enough money from me. He then pushed the dock worker aside, told me to go onboard via the passenger ramp, and he drove the car into the ship. The crew member did not request a tip. I attempted to find him later after I boarded in order to thank him for his assistance, but I never saw him again.
It was a most interesting morning.
The car entered the ship through a door on “A” Deck on the starboard side of the ship. The door was a little bigger than a standard garage door. I believe there were similar doors on the port side also. These doors opened directly into a garage. The cost to transport the car was about $300.00 US. The best part about having the car with us was that we left all of the luggage in the trunk of the car that we did not need on the voyage. Also, when we arrived in NY, we just got in the car and drove home.
The cost to ship it home by freighter (which is what we had originally planned to do) was about $175.00. We still would have had to get the car to the dock where the freighter was and then we would have to continue on by public transportation to the airport for our flight home with all of our luggage. We were told we could not leave anything in the car. It also would have taken about three weeks before it would arrive in NY where we would than have to arrange to pick it up from a freight forwarder. All in all, for the additional money spent to bring it on
The Michelangelo with us was well worth the difference.
At 12:05, Amy and I stood on the Lido deck outside the Amalfi Lounge on the stern of the Michelangelo, with a drink in hand, and watched as the ship slipped her ropes and majestically glided out to sea. We returned to our cabin to find our dining room assignment. It was for first seating at a table for six. First seating was definitely out of the question and, after our experience with tablemates on the Raffaello, we felt that a table for two was in order. I proceeded to the Monte Rosa restaurant on the Foyer Deck and after a brief negotiation with the maitre, we had our table for two at the second seating.
The Michelangelo was more visually subdued then the Raffaello. The Michelangelo was decorated in “earth tones” (browns, oranges etc.) while the Raffaello was more blues and greens. While we liked the appearance of both ships immensely, the Michelangelo seemed to be more refined and soothing to the eye.
The excellent service we experienced in the dining room on the Raffaello was again apparent on the Michelangelo, only more so. Being at a table for two, we were offered specials and tableside dish preparation almost every evening.
The voyage through the Mediterranean as well as the first two days on the Atlantic were beautiful, with calm seas and blue skies. On the third day in the Atlantic, we encountered a major storm. The speed of the ship had been reduced to almost a stop for approximately 6 hours as the seas pounded the vessel. Waves were breaking over the bow and as the ship pitched forward, the bow would disappear for what seemed to be an eternity. Ropes were put up throughout the ship in the public areas but most of the passengers stayed in their cabins. I spent a good part of the day walking around the ship which seemed to be deserted. I don’t think I saw more then twenty people that entire day. The balance of that time I spent in the Manhattan Lounge on the Promenade Deck with two bartenders, Franco Capone, another Franco and a waiter named Raimondo. The four of us talked and told stories while they plied me with Stingers from the bar. They claimed that the mixture of Crème de Menthe and Brandy kept you from getting sea sick. It must have worked because that evening at dinner, I was one of only a hand full of people in the dining room. For the next few months, whenever the Michelangelo docked in New York, Franco and Franco would call me and we would get together. Amy and I even had them over the house for diner.
The balance of the trip was as it had been prior to the storm, absolutely beautiful. On the morning of the arrival in New York, we woke early as we wanted to see the approach to the harbor. We were due to dock at 8: AM so we were up on deck around 6: AM. Seeing the skyline of New York appear through the heavy morning fog while looking over the bow of the Michelangelo was a sight and feeling I will never forget.
In subsequent years, Amy and I have sailed on many ships including the Queen Elizabeth 2, The Norway, The Rotterdam and the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary 2, to mention just a few. Out of all our ocean liner experiences, the voyages on the Raffaello and Michelangelo remain my favorites. Your web site is a wonderful tribute to two wonderful ships. Their unfortunate premature departure was truly a heart-break to any ship lover. They are, and will be, sorely missed. I wish to express my appreciation to you for giving us this website.