The pause on the cruise industry has left massive ships bobbing in the water — so this entrepreneurial skipper decided to turn them into an attraction.

By Rachel Chang
September 01, 2020
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Credit: Frances Valdes/Getty Images

Floating in the distance off the coast of Dorset, England, is a true sign of the times: major cruise ships, including Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Sea, Carnival’s Valor, and P&O’s Aurora, sidelined by the pandemic, anchored in place instead of carrying thousands of passengers around the globe.

When captain Paul Derham, a skipper for Mudeford Ferry, saw this sight, he had a thought: What if his ferry company offered tours of the “ghost ships” by sailing out and around them?

So, he started a two-and-a-half-hour tour to see the anchored ships in the English Channel’s Poole Bay. “We will have an unobstructed view of these giants and are allowed to cruise up to 50 meters away...from these massive ships, which have included P&O’s Arcadia, Aurora, Ventura, and Cunard’s Victoria,” the Mudeford Ferry site states.

The trips depart from Mudeford Quay on the vessel Josephine and are limited to about 20 people at a price of £20 per adult and £10 per child. During the tour, Derham shares his experience on the seas, including “an actual sea rescue.”

The idea was an immediate hit. “I am completely overwhelmed with the attention,” Derham told CNN Travel.

He says they’re getting about 80 to 100 calls a day. “We just cannot manage the number of direct calls asking to be on the register,” the official site says. So, they’ve decided to advertise upcoming trips on the Mudeford Ferry Facebook page 12, 24, or 48 hours before the next trip.

The demand is unsurprising. After all, sailing that close to a major cruise ship is a unique experience when they’re operating normally. “They look spectacular, because even when they're in the ports of call, like Southampton or wherever, you can't get that close to a ship, with a good view,” Derham told CNN.

The new tour doesn’t come without challenges. The cruise ships sometimes move, but Derham uses his network, which includes captains of several ships, to keep him informed on their whereabouts. Weather also factors in, so he keeps potential visitors updated on the Facebook page.

And the passengers come in good spirits. Derham told CNN that as they sailed by the Allure of the Seas, one of his guests, who had sailed on the ship earlier in the year, commented, “Blimey, I can still get their Wi-Fi.”

Rachel Chang is travel and pop culture journalist who grew up in the California Bay Area and lives in New York City (well, Hoboken, NJ). She’s a solo travel advocate, dumpling addict, and reluctant runner — who managed to finish the NYC marathon twice. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.