ABOARD THE EMERALD AZZURRA — The hotel manager of the Emerald Azzurra, a 100-passenger ocean-going vessel built for Emerald Cruises, has had a problem. A large.
It was a few days before the maiden voyage, and the shipping containers full of furniture and decorations hadn’t arrived. Most chairs were missing. There was no art for the walls. Virtually no tables for the dining room.
As the ship sat alongside in Aqaba, Jordan, time was running out.
“We suddenly realized things weren’t right,” said hotel manager Petros Zarpanely. “We sent different teams to different directions in Jordan to buy what we could. We bought some things from IKEA. Other things from other places. We bought materials, we bought glasses locally in Aqaba. I sat on the phone to make sure people weren’t buying the same things,” he said.
Emerald spent a lot of money that day, Zarpanely recalls. Some of them on credit cards. Part in cash.
In one day, Emerald had to purchase through retailers and catering supply wholesalers the contents of several shipping containers. “We built things in the middle of the night. We had one thing that had to wait, and we built it two hours before sailing just as we were welcoming guests. We built the last table 20 minutes before the ‘arrival of guests on board,’ he said.
By the time I boarded Emerald Azzurra’s second voyage from Aqaba to Athens, most of the planned furniture had still not arrived. Unaware of the logistical breakdown, my first impression of the ship was that it looked awfully simple, even cheap.
Some but not all of the appropriate furniture has arrived for the Sky Bar on the Emerald Azzurra. Photo credit: Tom Stieghorst
I marked the only chair in my room as something from Office Depot, not IKEA. But wherever it came from, it was strangely not the caliber of a cruise ship. And I understand minimalism. But not having a single photo, painting or other artwork on the wall was weird.
It turned out that Emerald was just one more victim of the nightmare that the global supply chain has become since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago. Companies around the world have unsuccessfully tracked shipping containers stuck on cargo ships or in ports, and Emerald Cruises was no exception.
“That was the challenge,” Zarpanely said. “We had several containers coming to us. Some were re-routed. Some did not travel because the global supply chain is not what it used to be. So we expected goods to be delivered to certain dates. Some arrived, some didn’t. t. Some didn’t make it to us, went to different ports.”
At one point, he said, the Emerald Azzurra weighed anchor in Aqaba and sailed to Egypt on reports that some of the containers were waiting. “We were trying to get some of them to Nabar in Egypt, so we sailed to Nabar from Aqaba, stayed in port for a day hoping they would come, and they never arrived. That’s how we were facing logistical challenges.”
The Aqua Lounge’s green chairs and loungers are among the few pieces of furniture that arrived in time for Emerald Azzurra’s first sail. Photo credit: Tom Stieghorst
Slowly the items began to arrive. Crew uniforms. Name tags. A box of books that was displayed in the ship’s observation lounge. The ship’s ice machines were loaded just before our cruise departed from Aqaba. “I bought 500 kilos of ice and kept it in one of the freezers,” Zarpanely said, so there would be ice for drinks from the bar.
Some of the furniture that arrived is beautiful. Pale green strappy chairs and woven lounge chairs on the pool deck bring out this already attractive area on the ship.
Zarpanely has been informed that a bunch of containers will be on the quay when the ship enters the port of Cyprus in a few days. He wants to believe it. But whether the Emerald Azzurra gets its intended decor, or continues to sail like an ocean-going IKEA showroom, all depends on the whims and serendipity of the global supply chain.
Petros Zarpanely is hotel manager on the Emerald Azzurra. Photo credit: Tom Stieghorst
Corrected: A previous version of this dispatch included an incorrect spelling of Hotel Manager Petros Zarpanely’s name.