Maxim Gorkiy Feature Review

Raoul Fiebig

Age: 21 to 30
Occupation: Public Relations Work
Number of Cruises: 6 to 10 Cruises
Cruise Line: Phoenix Reisen
Ship Name: T/S "Maxim Gorkiy"
Sailing Date: July 15th, 2000
Itinerary: Tour of ship (Columbuskaje, Bremerhaven, Germany)

During a port call in Bremerhaven (Germany) on July 15th, I was given the opportunity to visit Phoenix Reisen's T/S "Maxim Gorkiy". This is a ship with a long tradition that made it into the news twice in 1989 - once because it almost became a second "Titanic", the second time because it was the setting of a summit of world-wide importance.

Before taking a tour of the "Maxim Gorkiy", let's take a look at the vessel's interesting curriculum vitae:

The T/S "Maxim Gorkiy" was built in 1968/1969 as the T/S "Hamburg" for Deutsche Atlantik-Linie, Hamburg (Germany). The 25,022 gt vessel was launched on February 21st, 1968 at Deutsche Werft shipyard in Hamburg. Following successful sea trials in February 1969, the "Hamburg" was delivered by the yard that had in the meantime merged with Howaldtswerke shipyard in Kiel (Germany) and had become Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (HDW). On March 28th, 1969, the "Hamburg" left the port of Cuxhaven for its inaugural cruise to South America. In 1973 the vessel's tonnage was recalculated as being 24,981 gt. On September 25, 1973, the company renamed the ship the "Hanseatic".

In the meantime Deutsche Atlantik Line had gotten into major financial problems, however, and ceased operations on December 1st, 1973. The "Hanseatic" was laid up and was supposed to be sold to a Japanese company called Ryutsu Kaiun KK. After that purchase had failed, New York-based Robin International Corp. purchased the "Hanseatic" on behalf of the Soviet Union. The ship was handed over to Black Sea Shipping Company (BLASCO) on January 25th, 1974 and was renamed the "Maxim Gorkiy". Since then the vessel has often operated under charter to mostly German tour operators. Since 1987 Phoenix Reisen of Bonn (Germany) has chartered the ship. From April 29th - June 2nd, 1988 the "Maxim Gorkiy" was extensively refurbished at Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven.

On June 19th, 1989, while on its way from Iceland to Spitsbergen, the vessel got into a field of drifting ice. The Captain, not familiar with that treacherous region, did not reduce the "Maxim Gorkiy's" speed. Shortly before local midnight the ship - running 18.5 knots - collided with a massive ice floe and began to sink. The Captain made a distress call and the 575 passengers as well as 120 of the 378 crew members abandoned the "Maxim Gorkiy". At about 3 A.M. the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel "Senja" arrived at the scene of the accident. Divers from the Norwegian ship tried to insulate the leaks and additional pumps were installed. The vessel's long bow had already sunk up to the main deck when the "Maxim Gorkiy" was finally stabilized. The passengers, who had to hold out in the lifeboats and on ice floes at temperatures near the freezing-point were picked up by helicopters and the "Senja", and were later flown back to Germany from Spitsbergen. On June 21st, the "Maxim Gorkiy" was towed into a bay in Spitsbergen and was provisionally made tight. On July 4th, the vessel arrived under its own power in Bremerhaven were it was repaired and redelivered by Lloyd Werft on August 17th. Cruise Director Winfried Prinz was later awarded the order of the Federal Republic of Germany for his efforts to save the passengers and the ship. The order is displayed onboard the ship and once per voyage the documentation "The most difficult hours of the 'Maxim Gorkiy'" is shown on onboard TV since then. It is said that the public rooms are usually found abandoned when the film is televised.

On December 2nd and 3rd, 1989, only a couple of weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, US President George Bush and Soviet President Michail Gorbatschow held a summit aboard the T/S "Maxim Gorkiy", that was anchored off Malta. President Gorbatschow and his ministers also lived onboard the ship. One of the main subjects of the summit was Germany's future and its possible reunification.

Following the collapse and the end of the Soviet Union, the "Maxim Gorkiy" was reregistered in The Bahamas. Today the vessel is owned by a company called Maxim Gorkiy Ltd. that acts on behalf of Sovcomflot, Moscow.

It was a busy day at Columbuskaje cruise terminal in Bremerhaven. Three cruise ships were scheduled to be in port July 15th: Transocean Tours' M/S "Astor" and Phoenix Reisen's T/S "Albatros" and T/S "Maxim Gorkiy". When I arrived at the pier, only the "Astor" was docked, while the "Maxim Gorkiy" was just arriving. The former Cunard liner "Albatros" was just becoming visible near the horizon. While the "Maxim Gorkiy" was moored - early, but not early enough for me - I tried my best not standing in the way, as more than 10 huge trucks were arriving at the pier to supply the three cruise liners that were all disembarking their passengers. Shortly after 10 A.M. I embarked the ship via the crew gangway and was welcomed by a Russian officer who told me that in case I need help, he would be there to assist me - what a friendly reception.

As always, my tour of the ship was "from bottom to top" and began on Sauna-Deck (2), which is the lowest passenger deck. The "Maxim Gorkiy's" extensive spa area is situated all the way forward on this deck. The indoor swimming pool is of a good size and the whole area is fully tiled. Massage rooms, saunas and medical baths complete the spa.

Deck 3 is a crew-only deck with no passenger facilities, while two of the ship's main dining rooms are located on Restaurant-Deck (4). Forward, the Restaurant Sea is located. This dining room is cozy if a little dark. The lighting almost creates a pub atmosphere, which is not necessarily bad. The fact that a fine bar is located at the entrance to the dining room adds to this atmosphere. The fact that T/S "Maxim Gorkiy" has three main dining rooms means that they are everything but huge and much cozier than those two-level dining rooms on many newer ships. Of course they are not half as spectacular as those, but German passengers are usually very traditional and prefer intimate public rooms.

Midships the Restaurant Crimea is found. It is brighter than the Restaurant Sea and features warmer wood tones, as well. The restaurants were extensively refurbished a couple of years ago, and are indeed very charming. Breakfasts are partially buffet-style, therefore each dining room features a small buffet line. The two dining rooms are divided by the main galley that spreads over two decks.

One deck up, on Neptun-Deck (5), the Restaurant Odessa is located midships. This is the restaurant where the Captain dines, and it combines the best elements from the other two restaurants and therefore its décor is a bit darker than that of the Restaurant Crimea and still much brighter than that of the Restaurant Sea. Something I did notice is that the ceilings in the restaurants are very low. This is a single-seating ship - a nice feature.

Inside and outside cabins 400 - 491 are also located on this deck.

On Saturn-Deck (6), the Information (information desk) is situated midships in the Foyer, as is the Reisebüro (shore excursion office). Something that is hardly found on other cruise ships (except for the small mega-yachts) is that there are no narrow starboard and portside hallways, but generous centrally located hallway, which are that wide that an automobile could easily drive on them. This distinctive feature leaves an extremely spacious feeling. No more squeezing to the walls when there's "oncoming traffic" - excellent!

The "Maxim Gorkiy's" spaciousness continues when it comes to the cabins. Even the smallest inside cabins are about 150 sq. ft., which is a lot for a ship of this age. While the cabins are without a doubt not spectacular, they offer all the facilities demanded by the ship's mainly German passengers, including TV sets and unobtrusive but functional furniture. This "it needn't be beautiful, it just has to be functional" attitude is what many people associate with Russian products. And indeed this "ideology" is evident even onboard the "Maxim Gorkiy", even though a "Western Touch" is undoubtedly obvious. Except for 10 cabins, all bathrooms have bathtubs. Some bathrooms were refurbished during recent refits, some are in need of upgrading. The cabins located on Saturn-Deck are #200 - #365.

Orion-Deck (7) is another accommodation-only deck. As the inside cabins, "Maxim Gorkiy's" standard outside cabins are quite spacious, with beds that convert into sofas during the day. Between the forward and midships stairways, a block of inside and outside luxury cabins is located.

One deck up, Promenaden-Deck (8) is the vessel's main entertainment deck. All the way forward the Musiksalon is located. This is the "Maxim Gorkiy's" main show room, complete with lounge-style seating and a dance-floor. The entertainment is mostly cabaret-style, without big production shows, but small-scale musical shows and folklore performances instead. The room has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, but it seems to be a little bit on the small side, given that there is only one sitting for dinner - and therefore also one show per evening.

Next aft on starboard side, the Bibliothek, a combined library and card room, is situated. There is a decent selection of books, mostly in German, but also in several other languages. Passengers can also sit down next to the huge picture windows to enjoy parlor games. Several writing desks complete this room.

Adjacent to the Bibliothek, the Zhiguli-Club is the room in which the talks during the December, 1989 summit were held. This is a fascinating room that has a very special décor. It is far from being spectacular, but the different design elements create a very special atmosphere that is both that of coziness and festiveness. The entrance to the Zhiguli-Club is impressive and one hardly dares to open the doors. :o)

Opposite of the Zhiguli-Club and the Bibliothek, the Wolga-Bar is found on portside. This fairly large room is cleverly divided into two parts, the actual bar area and a fine and quiet sitting area. The heavy armchairs are very comfortable - this is a great place to overlook the sea when weather conditions aren't that favorable.

At midships, two winter gardens are found - one on portside, the other one on starboard. It is good to see that one of them is reserved for non-smoking passengers, as smoking is really a big problem on this ship. The rooms themselves feature lots of plants and nice wicker furniture. Sadly the rooms' steel walls are not that nice. Here we have the "it needn't be beautiful, it just has to be functional", again. A light wood paneling would look very well here.

Aft of the winter gardens, the "Maxim Gorkiy's" Einkaufszentrum, a shopping arcade, is situated. A large boutique, a photo shop, cosmetic & hairdresser salons as well as a small shop where souvenirs and other "essentials" may be purchased await the passengers. Of course, the shops were closed as we were in port.

On both port and starboard sides of the Einkaufszentrum, the ship's most expensive cabins are located. I took a look into some of those cabins, and they are actually very nice, with separate bed and living rooms - complete with floor-to-ceiling windows. A large refrigerator is filled with soft drinks, beer, spirits and snacks. The luxury cabins a re reached through separate hallways and are located away from the potentially noisy public rooms. One can only hope that early-rising joggers on the deck above don't wake up the suite occupants in the early morning hours.

Further aft, the Maxim-Theater is situated. This room is a combined cinema / lecture hall / concert hall for 300 people. The seating is staggered and quite comfortable, with good sight lines from all seats (unless a really big fellow is sitting in front of you).

Adjacent to the Maxim-Theater, an enclosed promenade is found on each side. The one on starboard is quite nice with wicker furniture and plants. The one on portside looks almost shabby, with ugly bright-orange plastic-covered seats on one side. The chairs near the big picture windows are in urgent need of replacement or at least of reupholstering, as many are soiled. Even the fact that this is considered a table tennis room is no excuse for letting this room become dilapidated. It actually reminded me of the small (and old) coastal ferries I had to use regularly when I was living on the island of Norderney.

All the way aft, an open deck space is situated. This is where the famous Bavarian Morning Drinking is held once per cruise. The Cruise Director and the Captain visit each table and clink glasses with the passengers. The Neptun Bar is the focal point on this open deck. As luggage were being unloaded from this deck during my visit, all the chairs and tables had been put aside. The area is partially covered over by a "corrugated iron"-like plastic roof that is not particularly beautiful, but remember: "it needn't be beautiful, it just has to be functional!"

One deck up, on Lido-Deck (9), the Rossia Lounge is located all the way forward. This is "Maxim Gorkiy's" observation lounge, with big picture windows on three sides. A large-scale model of the "Maxim Gorkiy" as the Soviet Union's flagship (complete with hammer and sickle - which are now gone of course) is the focal point of this fine room. The seating - in two different types of easy chairs as well as on couches - is comfortable and there's a large dance floor. The Russian folklore evenings that are extremely popular with the mostly elderly German passengers are held in this room. The Caucasian orchestra regularly receives high ratings.

The Captain's Club, a nightclub / disco is situated further aft. This room has the atmosphere of an ethnic pub and is really inviting - but rather dark, even for a nightclub. Adjacent to the Captain's Club, a small conference room is found. A small (just adequate) fitness center is located further aft. There's also an intimate chapel.

An open promenade (jogging track) encircles this deck. It is not completely wrap-around, but continues one deck up on Sonnen-Deck. Sadly, it is plain painted steel, in contrast to the wonderful teakwood decking that actually decorates the aft open decks and the pool deck. A huge open deck space for sun worshippers is situated all the way aft between the Lido- and Sonnen-Decks. A railing was being replaced on this deck, and therefore it wasn't possible to access it.

Sonnen-Deck (10) is the next-higher deck. All the way forward an open promenade is located (it completes the partially wrap-around Lido-Deck promenade). From here, great forward views are possible.

The Lido-Bar is the ship's casual eatery. Breakfast and lunch buffets are held here. Passengers are welcome to take their food onto the adjacent pool deck. The swimming pool itself is of a reasonable size, and is fully tiled. To get further aft, one has to walk up to Brücken-Deck and past the ship's unique funnel - an award-winning design that effectively prevents soot from falling onto the decks. From aft of the funnel, the aft open decks can be overlooked. The large sports deck that is located further aft on Sonnen-Deck is again partially covered by an unattractive plastic roof. The railing between the sports deck and the sun deck was just being replaced, which can be seen in the background of the picture. These open decks are lovely with original teakwood instead of painted steel or Astroturf.

This is an attractive older ship that is very spacious. The centrally located hallways are a wonderful idea. If only the ceilings in the dining rooms could be higher. "Maxim Gorkiy" is mostly well maintained. Nevertheless there is room for improvement: The portside covered promenade is simply unacceptable, as is the PVC floor that is found in some areas of the Lido-Deck. It is difficult to keep apart "crew-only doors" and those that lead to public rooms - especially on the open decks. It is sad that some areas look cheap (e.g. the plastic roofs on the open decks), and let this ship down. Those deficiencies could be easily repaired without much expenditure.

"Maxim Gorkiy" caters well to mostly elderly German passengers. While she's not spectacular nor new, she provides a traditional experience that is appreciated by her loyal followers.From what I could see, the crew is very friendly and the Russian and Ukrainian stewardesses speak German.

I'd be happy to receive your comments, questions etc. regarding this review. 

Raoul Fiebig