Wednesday, April 16, 2014 6:15 PM
Photo courtesy of Debby Thomas. Passengers greet Ernest Borgnine on the first evening of the TCM Classic Cruise.
Published on: Thursday, February 09, 2012
By Nick Thomas
The Jan. 13 capsizing of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the Tuscan island of Giglio, in Italy, has some potential passengers thinking twice about embarking on a future cruise. But these floating, luxury “hotels” make thousands of trips each year without incident, and the cruise ship industry has an excellent safety record.
That is one reason some 2,000 people from across the United States, Canada, and Europe didn’t hesitate to make their way to Miami last December to begin a four day round-trip cruise to Cozumel, Mexico.
However, these passengers had little interest in the golden beaches and sparkling blue waters that awaited them at their destination. What united this dedicated band of travelers was the onboard events and list of eminent film guests.
While celebrity cruises are nothing new, this one —t he inaugural Classic Cruise hosted by the cable channel, Turner Classic Movies, which brought together thousands of film fans with their favorite Hollywood legends on the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship — was truly a classic.
One of those fans was 46-year-old Leslie Ann Westfall, from Huntingtown.
“I had heard about the cruise from watching TCM,” said Westfall, whose husband works in law enforcement in Prince George’s County. “I just had surgery and was home recovering, and I thought how wonderful it would be to look forward to that cruise, which could only aid in my recovery.”
There were plenty of events and movies shown throughout the cruise which Westfall could enjoy, and many were introduced by the stars themselves. Her celebrity shipmates included Ernest Borgnine, Eva Marie Saint, Tippi Hedren, director Norman Jewison, as well as TCM hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz.
Saint talked about the making of “North by Northwest” and Hedren spoke about “The Birds.” Even Borgnine was not shy talking about “The Poseidon Adventure,” which was shown during the cruise — a touch of irony not lost on the passengers. This, of course, was before the Costa Concordia accident.
Borgnine was typical of all the celebrities. Far from retiring to their cabins and emerging only to fulfill their obligations, they regularly roamed the decks, mingling with the passengers, eating at the buffet, chatting and posing for photographs.
“Oh my goodness, I couldn’t have been treated better by the TCM folks or fans,” said the 94-year-old Borgnine during the cruise. “It’s one thing to like an actor, but the kind of love people have shown me is amazing.”
Westfall said she was delighted to see all the celebrities participating in the ship activities.
“The best thing about this cruise is that I saw the wonderful hosts and stars throughout the entire cruise,” she said. “I saw Robert Osborne and Ernest Borgnine the most and really felt as though I was cruising with them. I saw Ben Mankiewicz many times also and was finally able to meet him on Sunday afternoon.”
Westfall had previously only been on one cruise, with Disney in 1991, and was seasick the entire time. So she dosed up on medication for this voyage.
“I was very drowsy on Dramamine, since we hit rough waters on Saturday night, but I would rather have been drowsy and met Ben, than not at all. That was the highlight of my trip,” she said.
Westfall also recalled watching “Key Largo” on the deck on an outdoor screen while docked in nearby Key West.
“Watching under the stars, with the movie being introduced by Robert Osborne, well, it does not get any better than that,” she said.
TCM host Osborne was clearly pleased with the passengers’ response.
“Fans have been coming up to me throughout the cruise, talking about their favorite movies,” Osborne said. “I love that because it really means they love the channel and love the work that I do.”
Cabins went for around $800-$2,500 per person on this cruise and sold out within 70 days. Osborne said that TCM is seriously considering another cruise, and announcements will be made on the TCM website, tcm.com, which Westfall will be looking for.
“TCM did a fantastic job on the cruise,” she said. “I have loved classic movies since I was a child and now have a vast movie collection. Being surrounded by other passengers who had the same interest as me was wonderful. I would definitely go on another movie-themed cruise!”
Nick Thomas is a freelance writer and was a passenger on the cruise. He is the author of the recently released book, “Raised by the Stars: Interviews with 29 Children of Hollywood Actors.” He can be contact through the website www.raisedbythestars.com.