03/04/2012...4:26 pm

Nickel and diming, back in the day

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Steamer chairs and tenders counted as onboard extras on the RMS Windsor Castle.

Cruisers love to moan about the cost of onboard extras: How it’s getting worse, how greedy the cruise lines are, and so on. But is modern cruising really that different from the days when liner travel was the only way to get from point to point?

An information booklet from Union-Castle Line’s RMS Windsor Castle has come into our possession, for the Cape Town to Southampton sailing on August 16, 1967. The 38,000-ton RMS Windsor Castle was a super-liner of its time and the last of the Union-Castle mailships to ply that route (the line ceased shipping operations in 1977), carrying 782 passengers and 475 crew, as well as mail and freight. Looking through the booklet, there seemed to be just as many opportunities 45 years ago to part with cash onboard as there are now – and even services that cost money then and are actually included now.

Some examples of paid services:

Group dance classes are free nowadays, but in 1967, you could pay the dance hosts for private tuition by prior arrangement with the reception desk.

Tender service is included now, too, but in 1967, when the Windsor Castle called at St Helena island in the South Atlantic, the charge for those who wanted to go ashore for sightseeing was 4/- (four shillings), or 20p in decimal currency, not allowing for inflation. In today’s money, the charge would be £2.93.

Deck chair rage? Guests could rent their own steamer chair for the two-week voyage for a whopping £1 10s (£1.50 in decimal) – and a ‘small additional charge’ was made for a rug. This works out to around £25 in total — £22 just for the chair!

Cabins didn’t have safes, but valuables could be left with the Purser for safekeeping – with a charge for the privilege, based on the declared value of the goods.

The Windsor Castle had a private dining room where dinner parties could be thrown, for a fee, while two other ships in the fleet, S.A. Vaal and Pendennis Castle, had alternative restaurants with an a la carte menu, also for an extra charge – just like today.

Other extras included the services of a shorthand typist (in the absence of an internet café); an Interflora service for sending flowers to friends at home; a masseur (passengers in First Class got priority bookings); and a hairdresser and beauty salon – all things you can pay for on today’s cruise ships.

And although the wording in the booklet is terribly polite, the subject of tipping still rears its head: “The Chief Purser will be pleased to give advice on the subject of gratuities if desired.”

Not so different after all, then.

Did you sail on any of the Union-Castle ships? Tell us about it.

– Sue Bryant

Get the lowdown on the hidden costs of modern cruising.

Join the discussion on the Cruise Critic forums: What was your first ship?


  • My husband used to travel on Union Castle from SA to the UK and back through his childhood. He says that liners were merely a way of transport…there was no other way until aeroplanes became possible…..aged 17, it took him 3 days to reach the UK on tiny planes which didn’t fly through the night.
    Union Castle was basic transport, and you paid for just that. There were different classes, and the majority travelled 2nd class….just as today you would go on a cheap airline, with no amenities. On top of that, you could buy certain perks….
    Of course food had to be provided on the liners, and a certain amount of entertainment to keep the passengers happy, but there were no other “frills”. Many people used the ships for emigration; there wasn’t the money nor desire for these frills.
    Tipping has always happened with the “upper classes”….we’re not aware whether the 2nd class passengers would even be aware of this issue. When my OH arrived to study in the UK, he had to learn the London rules of tipping (around 10% in a decent restaurant); he became aware that much of the UK had little idea, or would put 6pence (old money) on the saucer as a kind of thank you….which is the way I, in the North of England, was raised.
    So, think of Union Castle as Easy Jet…..2nd class unless you could afford Business, and had money to spare to share with staff.

  • My wife and I really enjoyed a recent cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas (RCI ship) but were really horrified when we walked around the ship for charity (Children’s Wish Foundation) and a picture of that event was priced at $9.99 (5×7 shot) – proceeds do not going to the charity.

    If that’s not nickle and diming, I don’t know what is to be honest especially that we had already donated to the cause in purchasing 2 t-shirts at $10.00 each (goes to the charity directly).

  • tom in long Beach

    Bottom Line, cruises and Liner Voyages are/were a business.
    The more things change the more they stay the same.
    Thanks for running such a cool article. My friend Peter Knego saved some items from the Windsor Castle. I have two chairs in my living room from her. (www.midshipcentury.com) not sure if he has any Union Castle items left. But he is preserving history.

  • James Wilson

    I was most surprised by the comment naming Union Castle line as the Easy Jet of the time. In my opinion, nothing could have been further from the truth. Their beautiful ships were immaculately kept and the company paid more than their competitors to attract and retain the best staff. Even paying first class travel for their officers to go on leave when not many companies paid travel arrangements home at that time.

    In the early 1950’s I served as an engineer with Canadian Pacific. On gaining my Chief Engineer’s steam certificate, I had to leave the company briefly, as I wanted to gain a Chief Engineer diesel certificate. This was when I joined Union Castle. The steam driven Empress vessels burnt 10 tons of fuel/hour but the diesel driven vessels that replaced them were much more efficient and required a lot less engineering staff.

    There were weekly sailings by the larger steam driven 28,000 ton mail liners between Southampton/Cape Town. Their intermediate class 18,000 ton diesel driven liners sailed from London.

    I joined the Bloemfontein Castle as Second Engineer. On reaching Cape Town, the ship then took on passengers from Southern Africa for a cruise calling at the beautiful ports, all with stunning beaches namely East London, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Lourenco Marques, Beira and Mombasa before turning around for the trip home.

    A lot of Brits worked in Kenya who joined us for the trip home. When in Cape Town the most popular Hotel was the Nelson which had great entertainment with guest singing stars Dennis Lotus and Lisa Rosa who both went on to sing in Ted Heath’s big band in the UK.

    New comers to Cape Town were encouraged to have a drink called ‘Tickie’. This was the sediment left in the bottom of the sherry casks and was very potent. Not many could manage more than two and remain sober. The term ‘Tickie’ was South African slang for a small 3p silver coin.

    All Senior Officers had their own dining table in the main restaurant. A Second Engineer had a table for 10 guests. All the Officers were given a very generous allowance to purchase drinks for passengers at unbelievable discounted prices (1p for a pint of beer and 3p for a Gin and Tonic).

    The length of the voyage was three and a half months for the Intermediate size vessels but the larger mail ships voyages were 6 weeks long. The Mail ships left Cape Town at 4pm prompt deliberately intended to co-incide with the departure of the famous Blue Train.

    The former Transvaal Castle was one of the first vessels to join Carnival Cruise line who renamed her the Festivale.

    Before leaving Union Castle I was asked to stay and join the team to supervise the building of the Pendennis Castle in Belfast.

    On returning to Canadian Pacific I joined the newly built Empress of Britain. Having previously been promised to be part of the team to supervise the building of the Empress of England and the Empress of Canada. The latter was Carnival’s first cruise ship which they renamed the Mardi Gras. On the maiden voyage under Carnival management they put the ship aground in the Bahamas Islands off Florida. The ship was re-floated and provided many years of service for the company.

    In the 1950’s the St. Lawrence river would be closed in winter when it froze over unlike today when it is kept clear with ice breakers. In the winter therefore, most of the Canadian Pacific fleet sailed between Liverpool/St. Johns and Halifax. I was very fortunate to sail on the Empress of Scotland, which was one of the top cruise ships of the time. They did one long cruise from Southampton to the Caribbean. The price was very high which was reflected in the passengers who could afford it. Following this it did 6-8 short cruises between New York and the Caribbean carrying the cream of society from Canada and the USA. Many were household known names who returned to cruise each year.

    Whilst the food was outstanding in contrast with the modern cruise liners of today not all the cabins were en-suite. Some just had the wash basin in the cabin and shared bathrooms. Some people were puzzled as to why the baths had 3 taps. One was for hot sea water and special soap was issued to achieve a good lather. Most of the modern vessels today make a lot of the required fresh water onboard.

    It was quite common on the Atlantic crossing for people to share cabins. A complaint that I repeatedly heard on Celebrity cruises is the cost of single travel, although some companies are now starting to pay attention to offering solutions. Rather than travel in a smaller inside cabin maybe Cruise Critic could offer the ability for visitors to the site to find others looking to share a cabin.

  • James Wilson

    Further to my email sent to you dated 8th april 2012. Should you wish to print it, I would like you to first correct an error. namely

    but the larger mail ships voyages were 4 weeks. Not 6 weeks as previously stated.

    TIPS You may wish to include my following comments.

    With regards to tips. For the short Atlantic crossing, it was said that some of first class stewards would refuse to accept a tip of the equivalent of a weekly wage to a workman ashore, and inform the passenger he would need the money for the baggage porter ashore.
    The last night before docking all the crew were too excited to sleep (This condition is referred to as “the channels ” ) The crew bar (Know as the Pig) always did a roaring nights trade. All along the working alleyway, every form of gambling was taking place.
    A lot of the stewards stayed up all night gambling, and the amount of money that changed hands was enormous

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